18 dead in mass alcohol poisoning

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Russian police on Monday arrested the maker of ‘Mister Cider’, after 18 people across three jurisdictions died from drinking his products. Another 17 people were hospitalized in serious condition, and the authorities fear the death toll may yet rise.

As of Monday evening, there were 16 fatalities in Ulyanovsk Region and two more in Samara Region, east of Moscow along the Volga River. At least two people were hospitalized in Udmurtia, a republic northeast of the two regions, where some of the cider had been delivered.

Russia’s consumer watchdog Rospotrebnadzor said that the first cases of poisoning were detected over the weekend in Dimitrovgrad, a town in the Ulyanovsk Region. Governor Alexey Russkikh initially reported 22 injured, eight of whom died. One of them was an underage girl, he said.

Russkikh has since ordered “preventive raids on all points of sale of alcohol” in the region, while Rospotrebnadzor banned the sales of all ‘Mister Cider’ products in Russia. Police have set up roadblocks to check beverage trucks for contraband, while inspectors and officers combed the warehouses across the country. Contaminated alcohol was found as far west as Nizhny Novgorod and as far east as Izhevsk.

So far, police have recovered 193 kegs of ‘Mister Cider’ beverages at 23 different stores. The most recent batch was delivered on May 31 and June 1. The 30-liter kegs contained a variety of flavors, but the accompanying documentation did not include quality control certificates.

Samara authorities have arrested Anar Huseinov, the owner of the company Andi, which produces the ‘Mister Cider’ line of beverages, as well as beer and a range of fruit juices.

The Investigative Committee of Russia has taken over the case, “to ensure it is objective and thorough,” said its head, Alexander Bastrikin. The case is best suited for federal law enforcement given that the poisonings happened across multiple jurisdictions.

While the authorities have not yet revealed what caused the mass poisoning, the prime suspect is methanol, a type of alcohol highly toxic to humans. The symptoms have been listed as weakness, headache, vomiting, shortness of breath, blurred vision, low blood pressure and fainting, said deputy head of Udmurtia Elvira Pinchuk, urging everyone affected to “see a doctor as soon as possible.”

This is the worst mass poisoning in the area since July 2019, when three people died and more than 60, mainly migrants from Uzbekistan, ended up in the hospital. The culprit turned out to be seed oil produced in Ulyanovsk from contaminated raw materials delivered from a farm in Samara.

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