RIGA - A court in the northeastern town of Gulbene has handed down a suspended eight month jail term to a woman who sold toxic moonshine. The woman was identified by the victims as a local vendor of illegal alcohol.
It was the first case in which the Gulbene Regional Court has convicted a vendor identified by local residents for selling illegal alcohol. The court ruled to destroy the 2.5 liters of ethyl alcohol diluted with water that was found at her illegal outlet.
Last fall two eastern regions in Latvia were stricken by an outbreak of poisonings brought on by consumption of illegal alcohol made from industrial spirit. Nearly a dozen people ended up dying from intake of the poisonous concoction, which is believed to have been made in Russia, where several hundred people died from drinking "surrogate alcohol."
In addition to the suspended jail term, the vendor will be required to regularly report to the State Probationary Service over a period of one year. Should she violate the law again she will be forced to spend time in jail.
The court took into account the woman's open hearted confession and regret for her wrongdoing, as well as the absence of any previous criminal record, in their ruling. She is handicapped and does not own any real estate, so the court didn't deem it necessary to impose confiscation of any of her effects.
"No one would do this if they were well off," the defendant said in court.
The woman accepted a plea bargain deal which included a shortened hearing. She now has 10 days to exercise her right to appeal the decision.
The woman has been caught selling illegal alcohol repeatedly in the past year. In previous cases she was given an administrative penalty.
According to the criminal law code, a violation of the rules of purchase, sale, storage or transportation of goods that are subject to excise taxation, if the offenses occur within one year, is punishable with up to two years' imprisonment or a fine equal to 60 minimum wages.
The legal proceedings have been initiated by police in Gulbene county in connection with more than 60 people falling ill. The judge in charge of the legal process has authorized a search of 12 illegal alcohol outlets that were named by the patients.
In two of these outlets substandard alcohol was found twice during a year's time, resulting in two different legal actions. The first proceeding took place in Gulbene regional court on Feb. 5; the second one is scheduled for February 8.
A board of experts examining the confiscated alcohol has found an unusual substance in one of the batches. Tests are currently underway to determine if the second batch contains any harmful substances.