Police in Kampong Chhnang yesterday detained a man for questioning over a noxious batch of rice wine they say has claimed 11 lives since November and hospitalised 60 others.
Kong Sam Ol, Teuk Phos district deputy police chief, said the first death occurred on November 3 in Domnak Ampil village. Other deaths followed, including four this month, but the cause remained a mystery.
It wasn’t until several mourners died after drinking rice wine at a funeral – held, ironically, for another suspected victim of the same tainted drink – that villagers and authorities began to put the pieces together.
Ly Channy, Kraing Skear commune health centre chief, said yesterday alone 51 people were referred to Kampong Chhnang Provincial Hospital with symptoms linked to the fatal rice wine, including difficulty breathing, stomachaches and high blood pressure.
Channy said she and other doctors believed the 11 fatalities – seven in November and four so far this month – were linked to the rice wine consumption, but they were still waiting on the beverage to be tested for a conclusive result.
Seng Siet, a villager in Kraing Skea commune, said his brother-in-law had been rushed to hospital yesterday after he and a neighbour imbibed half a litre of the suspicious wine.
Siet said his brother-in-law suffered some similar symptoms to the deceased, including stomach pangs, shortness of breath and dizziness. “We suspect he was poisoned by the rice wine, but we don’t know which shop it came from because there are many places making it in the commune,” he said.
His brother-in-law was transferred to Calmette Hospital in Phnom Penh, but Siet said his drinking partner had not experienced any symptoms yet. Sam Ol said investigations into the production of the wine had begun, but was not willing to name anyone as a suspect at this early stage.
“One manufacturer has been brought for questioning,” he said. Sam Ol said the interrogation led authorities to suspect the man had used the “wrong formula” to make the wine.
Ly Virak, deputy provincial police chief, said the man in question – whom he refused to name – was in custody and being questioned at the district police station and will today be taken to provincial headquarters for further interrogation.