Further deaths linked to illicit alcohol in Costa Rica

The death toll being attributed to illicit alcohol in Costa Rica continues to rise, reaching 26 at last count, according to the country’s Ministry of Health.

All told, 72 people have been hospitalised with suspected methanol poisoning linked to adulterated alcohol in the last few months, although the Ministry says the last death occurred on August 1.

The fatalities included 19 men and seven women but according to the Costa Rican government no tourists have been affected.

There has been a recent spate of deaths among visitors to the Dominican Republic across the Caribbean Sea that have prompted an investigation aided by the FBI.

The Ministry is however warning both foreign visitors and Costa Ricans to avoid several brands linked to methanol poisoning until a ban is lifted, including:

  • Guaro Montano;
  • Guaro Chonete;
  • Guaro Cuerazo;
  • Guaro Sacheto;
  • Guaro Gran Apache;
  • Red Star Brandy;
  • Red Baron Brandy;
  • Timbuka Brandy; and
  • Molotov Brandy.

The authorities have seized around 65,500 bottles of liquor as art of its investigation into the poisoning incident.

It is estimated that in Costa Rica, almost two thirds (60 per cent) of liquor products are in some way illicit – representing an annual loss of $90m in excise taxes plus additional VAT and corporate income tax evasion.

In response to the latest update, the International Tax Stamp Association (ITSA) has called for the introduction of secure alcohol track and trace systems in order to “prevent a repeat of the tragedies, help save lives and enable revenue authorities to recoup more excise taxes.”

The organisation references a tax stamp-based system already in operation in Ecuador (pictured right) which allows consumers to verify the authenticity of the product in real time, and assure themselves that the liquor is safe to drink.

The system in Ecuador has also resulted in a 20 per cent increase in excise taxes and the detection of numerous smuggling rings, says the ITSA.

Meanwhile, in Colombia, there has been an estimated 14 per cent increase in the legality of alcohol products, thanks to the implementation of a control system based on tax stamps and traceability, adds the industry body.

Juan Carlos Yañez Arenas, ITSA’s chairman (pictured left), said in a statement: “Systems work by marking each unit of a legitimate product in a way that is not counterfeit-able, by deploying security inks and/ or affixing a high-security tamper-evident tax stamp.”

“This is supported by assigning a unique digital identity which means that a unit can be tracked throughout its life cycle with data captured every time there is a change in the chain of custody,” added Yañez.

“The secure marking has both visible and invisible elements and allows consumers and inspectors to check that the product is genuine.”

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