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Russian authorities offer to swap booze for food as 34 die in Orenburg from deadly counterfeit spirits made using methanol

Authorities in Russia’s Orenburg region have offered residents to swap low-quality spirits for higher-value food packs after 34 people in the city of Orsk died after buying knock-off alcohol. Many others are still hospitalized.

The incident has seen 10 suspects detained, with seven currently remanded in custody. Orsk is around 1,500 kilometers southeast of Moscow and sits on the border of European Russia and Siberia, close to the border with Kazakhstan.

According to the local Cabinet of Ministers, the suspected counterfeit booze can be traded in at a local store for a food package that “exceeds the cost of alcohol by several times.” It is not known what the contents are.

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The first victims of the poor-quality drink died on the night of October 7, it has been reported. A short time later, the police found a base in Orsk with 1,218 bottles of 0.5-liter counterfeit alcohol, as well as a bottling facility with equipment and empty containers. According to Vasily Kozupitsa, the mayor of the city, the victims bought the booze directly from the supplier.

Samples of the drink were found to contain methanol. This chemical is dangerous to humans because it tastes similar to ethanol but can quickly cause fatal damage at low volumes.

As things stand, aside from the 34 who have already perished, 24 people are currently in hospital. Seven of those are in serious condition, and four are on artificial respiration.

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Those caught illegally producing and selling alcohol in Russia can be punished severely by the courts, especially if it causes harm. If caused unintentionally, the accused faces up to 10 years in prison. If the seller knew that the products contained the lethal methanol, causing the death of multiple people, then the defendant could face life behind bars.

This isn’t the first time that many Russians have died due to bootleg booze. In 2016, surrogate alcohol killed 78 people in the city of Irkutsk. The drink, which included hawthorn-scented bath oil, was removed from the shelves at about 100 shops in the city.

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