Indonesians, tourists warned about illicit alcoholic beverages

INDONESIA - The Customs and Excise Office has warned residents and foreign tourists to be careful when consuming alcoholic beverages following the circulation of adulterated alcohol in the market.

"Such adulterated liquor has claimed the lives of many people [including foreign visitors]. Indeed, it is not easy to differentiate an original liquor brand from a fake one," said the director general of the Customs and Excise Office, Agung Kuswandono, in Belawan, North Sumatra.

Agung said adulterated liquor was produced by an organised domestic network.

The Belawan Customs and Excise office recently confiscated 18,408 bottles of illegal alcoholic beverages worth around Rp 5.5 billion (S$709,000) in the Medan Industrial Zone. A suspect, identified only as PS, was arrested during the raid.

Agung said that the suspect was about to send the illegal liquor to a number of hotels and entertainment venues.

He said his office also recently raided an illegal liquor producer in Purwokerto, Central Java, that allegedly supplied adulterated alcoholic beverages across the country. The alcoholic beverages were fake and had no legal distribution permit, Agung said.

"The producer used to supply the illegal beverages to a number of tourist destinations. The producer used the original liquor bottles and filled them with tainted alcoholic beverages, which is harmful to, even deadly for, humans," Agung continued.

"It's not difficult to get any kind of imported liquor here in Indonesia. Therefore, drinkers must remain alert, because such liquor might contain toxic substances."

Among the imported liquor brands copied were Fashion, Jacobs Creek, Chivas Regal, Masumi Sake, Marshal, Kirishima Briliant, Le Parisien, Olmeca and Kahlua.

A number of foreign tourists have fallen victim to adulterated liquor. In North Sumatra, English tourist Cheznye Emmons, 23, died after consuming a drink from a bottle labelled Mansion House Dry Gin at a party with friends in Bukit Lawang, a tourist destination known for its orangutan nature reserve, on April 20.

They bought the liquor in Bukit Lawang. Emmons reportedly vomited several times after drinking it. Doctors at Colombia Hospital in Medan diagnosed Emmons as suffering from methanol poisoning.

No investigation was carried out as her family did not file a police report on her death, which they needed as an initial step in the investigation.

"We cannot process the case without a report. The only thing that we can do is check all stores that sell imported liquor," said Langkat Police chief Adj. Comr. Rosyid Hartanto.

Earlier this year, in Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara (NTB), an Australian died after drinking a vodka mixer laced with local moonshine.

During an inspection of bars and cafes, Mataram Drug and Food Monitoring Agency (BPOM) and North Lombok administration officials found several counterfeit alcoholic beverages.

In 2009, 25 people died in Bali after drinking arak spirit laced with methanol.

North Sumatra Industry and Trade Agency's head of domestic trade division, Rouly Tambunan, previously claimed that liquor was distributed appropriately in the province.

"So far, we have never found adulterated liquor on the market, but there are many irresponsible people who mix liquor and sell it without our knowledge," said Rouly.