Police trace source of methanol deaths

  • 2001-10-04
  • BNS
TALLINN - The methyl alcohol that claimed 59 lives in the southwestern city of Parnu this month appears to have been stolen from a local company that used it in the production of biodiesel.

Parnu's newspaper Postimees last week said police had traced the spirit to a machine workshop at a former collective farm in Suigu, a village to the north of Parnu, where the company AS Baltfett kept barrels of methanol left over from the production of biodiesel, a nontoxic, biodegradable fuel made from vegetable oil.

Police say two young male residents of Parnu county stole 10 200-liter barrels of methanol on the night of Sept. 5-6. They refused to name the suspects or to identify the company.

The newspaper said local residents saw police take away tens of barrels of methanol from the territory of Baltfett. The company's owner, Neeme Tilk, confirmed that police suspected the methanol came from his plant and said he had been interrogated several times.

Methanol can be bought in Estonia in at least 10 locations for a few kroons per liter. Tilk said his latest batch was produced by Neste Chemicals.

The barrels, painted a distinctive blue and stored near the door of the former workshop, were counted every now and then, said Tilk. He had recently found a large number of empty barrels in place of full ones, he said.

The thieves allegedly passed the barrels to another suspect, named Sergei, 34, who was detained on Sept. 15. He in turn allegedly passed the substance via two Azerbaijani men to a 39-year-old named Alexander, who sold it to distributors of bootleg alcohol.

Police say they have apprehended all those in the chain.

As of the evening of Sept. 26, police were holding eight people on suspicion of manslaughter. If convicted they can be sentenced to up to three years in jail. Bootleg alcohol laced with methyl alcohol claimed 57 lives in the Parnu region and two in the adjoining Laanemaa region in the middle of September.