Police in Taiwan have arrested a man in connection with the sale of drug-laced beer products that were said to have been procured via a Chinese e-commerce platform.
The man, a person surnamed Chang, is accused of selling Four Loko beer that was mixed with an illegal drug called GHB.
According to Apple Daily (Taiwan), the arrest came after police received reports of people falling sick due to consumption of the US-made beer.
The reports led authorities to suspect that spiked products were being sold on the island, prompting an investigation and the eventual arrest of Chang.
When questioned, Chang told the police that he purchased some cartons of beer from a vendor on Taobao, Alibaba Group’s flagship e-commerce website, and that he resold about a 1,000 cans online.
He denied that he had any knowledge that the beer was spiked with an illegal substance.
The beer-contamination problem first came to light last month when a man in southern Taiwan’s Chiayi prefecture informed authorities that he passed out for more than hour soon after he drank a can of Four Loko beer that he bought online.
The man told the police that he had purchased four cans of the US-brand beer for NT$1,700 (US$54).
The police then took the remaining three cans for tests, only to find out that they contained GHB, a type of the so-called date rape drug like ketamine and FM2.
GHB is a powerful synthetic drug that has euphoric and sedative effects. With effects that can be felt within minutes after ingestion, the drug can cause dizziness, nausea, vomiting, among other symptoms and even unconsciousness or coma in some cases.
After the shocking findings, investigations led the police to Chang, who was arrested late Wednesday on charges of violating the Tobacco and Wine Management Act.
As investigations continue, Taiwan authorities have decided to halt import of Four Loko beer for now.
The island’s criminal investigation bureau said it has notified police in mainland China about the matter and asked them to investigate at their end, Apple Daily (Taiwan) reports.
Taiwan police suspect the beers in question might have been spiked before they were put up for sale on Taobao.
Authorities said they will look for the other buyers who may have got their supplies through the online channel. It is estimated that more than 200 people have bought the drug-laced products.
Responding to the reports, Taobao said it will take necessary measures if any product sold on its site is found illegal. Errant sellers will face penalties or even have their stores closed.
Four Loko, a line of alcoholic beverages produced by Chicago-based Phusion Projects, debuted in the United States in 2005.
It had once been a controversial product as it combined alcohol and caffeine and targeted the underaged. Following criticism and reports of young drinkers fainting, the firm removed caffeine, taurine, and guarana in its contents and reintroduced products in 2010.
The brand became quite popular in Hong Kong and China in recent years.
In an incident last year, Amy Ng Hang-mei, a TVB host who competed in the Miss Hong Kong Pageant 2003, was seen behaving in an excitable manner after drinking a Four Loko during a beer-tasting session on a TV program.
Apple Daily reports that several drug stores, in areas such as Sheng Shui and Yuen Long, are selling the beers.
Following the Taiwan news, Hong Kong’s health department and customs officials said they will seek more information from the island’s authorities.
They pointed out that GHB has been listed as dangerous drugs since 2001.
A health department spokesperson reminded the public that under the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance, any person who traffics a dangerous drug can face up to HK$5 million in fine and imprisonment for life.
Possession and consumption of dangerous drugs will entail fines of up to HK$1 million and imprisonment of seven years.
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