Acting on a tip, Turkish forces began surveillance of a gang of suspected counterfeit alcohol producers. The tipster revealed that bootleg alcohol producers were negotiating with a gang who was producing large quantities of ethyl alcohol. Even when produced according to standards and at its highest quality ethyl alcohol is a non-consumable form of alcohol often used in caustic cleaners and for other industrial purposes.
Capping off the digital and physical surveillance, Turkish Security Forces raided a warehouse in the Atasehir District of Istanbul. Along with the seizure of 18 tons of ethyl alcohol valued at 1.9 million Turkish lirars (approximately $278,000 USD), the authorities arrested three suspects at the scene.
The proliferation of fake alcohol production by gangs and by home distillers have surged in Turkey in response to the steep rise in taxes on alcohol by the Administration of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In 2019 a steep 13.5% consumption tax increase was applied to consumable alcohol. An automatic more than 10% increase scheduled for 2020 was shelved as the central bank tries to calm inflation.
Ostensibly the Erdoğan administration has been steadily raising taxes on consumable alcohol to slow its demand as a public health policy. Secular Turkish claim that the war on alcohol is to move Turkey towards conformity with an Islamic republic. Politics aside what the high alcohol tax policy is doing is causing a surge of home distillers who are buying cheaper ethyl alcohol and mixing it with seasonings to mimic the traditional centuries Turkish old alcoholic beverage Raki. Along with the surge in home producers, Turkey has had to contend with bootleggers who produce both the raw alcohol and the finished drink.
On March 19, 2020, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported that 34 people were hospitalized after being poisoned with fake alcohol. Along with the 34 who were hospitalized 20 died from the poison alcohol. While not distinguishing the number related to each cause, authorities noted that some were poisoned by rubbing an illegal hand sanitizer on their bodies which was absorbed by the skin while others were affected by drinking the concoction.
Authorities believe these cases were caused not by alcohol consumption for inebriation or pleasure but to ward off the coronavirus. They reiterated that drinking alcohol is not a cure for coronavirus. All the hospitalized and deceased victims of the mid-March outbreak of alcohol poisoning in Istanbul were Turkmenistan nationals.
In another 2020 case of bootleg alcohol, Turkish Authorities executed an operation on January 27,2020 in preparation for the tourist season. Police acted on a tip that a hotel manager in Bodrum, a resort popularized by Westerners, was storing bootleg alcohol to serve the summer consumers who descend on the resort.
The police captured 7,000 bottles of bootleg alcohol at the popular highly rated hotel and arrested 2 of its Executives. Like the rest of the world, Turkey has seen its share of poisoned alcohol deaths increase along with many victims of this crime suffering blindness, organ damage and life altering health consequences.
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