Wednesday,  Aug 15, 2018,06:12 (GMT+7) 0 0
Cruelty that knows no boundaries
Son Nguyen
Friday,  Apr 20, 2018,18:18 (GMT+7)

Cruelty that knows no boundaries

Son Nguyen

The entire society is turned upside down when it is revealed that a coffee processor in the Central Highlands province of Dak Nong has mixed harmful chemicals with coffee byproducts on an industrial scale for sale on the domestic market. The local media is awash with denunciations and indignation towards the unethical business owner for poisoning consumers en mass, and demands tough sanctions. Simply put, producing poisonous drinks in this case must be treated as a criminal offense, say local news outlets.

The scandal broke out on April 15 when police in Dak Nong – tipped off by some residents –conducted a raid into the coffee processing facility, only to find out a bitter truth beyond their imaginations. Workers there were caught red-handed mixing powder from used batteries or cells, rock powder and other harmful materials with substandard-quality ground coffee. The powder from used batteries was meant to blacken coffee to make it look as real.

And production there was of an industrial scale, according to the news site nongnghiep.vn. Police found at the site over 21 tons of so-called packaged coffee that have been soaked with the blackening substances, 40 liters of black liquid, 35 kilos of used battery shells, and 192 kilos of powder from such batteries, says the news site.

In the questioning that followed the raid, Nguyen Thi Thanh Loan, the owner of the processing facility, admitted she has supplied around three tons to the market.

Such a revelation is extremely scary.

Nguyen Duy Thinh, a scientist formerly attached with Hanoi Polytechnic University, asserts on news site Dan Viet that the powder from batteries is very toxic to humans, and highly harmful to internal human organs. “There are various harmful chemicals in a used cell, including heavy metals like lead, manganese and cadmium, which are highly hazardous to the kidney, brain, and digestion and reproduction systems of humans,” he is quoted by the news site.

Other experts say a high concentration of lead will damage bone, liver, nerve system, and can lead to blindness, cancer or even death.

In her confession to investigators, Nguyen Thi Thanh Loan says she has purchased substandard coffee beans or even coffee crush as material, according to Tien Phong. After processing and blackening the coffee with battery powder, she sells the product to the market for a high profit. This year alone, her establishment has sold some three tons to consumers in the southern province of Binh Phuoc.

The investigation is being expanded following the initial confession by Loan, Dak Nong police said at a news conference on April 18. As coffee is a popular drink in the country, millions of consumers are now fretful whether they have drunk such dangerous coffee, and as seen in local media, thousands have vented their wrath at the unethical business owner.

“This is the biggest-ever massive poisoning case in history,” says a reader in Nguoi Lao Dong. “It’s incredible there is a person intentionally ruining the lives of others,” says another.

In Tuoi Tre, a reader says “it is not dirty coffee, but poison. The culprit must be criminally prosecuted,” likening the business woman to a serial killer. Another reader says in the paper that even workers at the processing facility must be criminally implicated, since they knowingly committed violations of the law.

Lawyers also agree that heavy punitive sanctions must be taken against the culprit.

Lawyer Nguyen Van Hau says in Tien Phong that the act of mixing coffee with battery powder constitutes a criminal offense under prevailing laws. The act can possibly do grave harm to the health and lives of consumers, and can be prosecuted in accordance with Article 317 of the Penal Code, with the highest sanctions of VND200 million in fines and a prison term of up to five years.

In Thanh Nien, lawyer Nguyen Thi Minh Trang says the act by Loan is evidence of producing and trading in fake goods being food and foodstuff. If the violator is an organization, the financial penalty may amount to VND18 billion, while for an individual, the harshest term can be life imprisonment.

Nguyen Nhu Tiep, a senior official with the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, asserts in Thanh Nien that legal grounds in this case are sufficient to press a criminal charge against the culprit. Tiep says in the newspaper his agency, National Agro-Forestry-Fisheries Quality Assurance Department, has urged all localities nationwide to take coffee samples for testing, which may unearth numerous violators.

In fact, says local media, substandard coffee products are awash on the market.

News site Vnexpress reports that coffee samples taken at random on the market in 2015 showed that three out of 15 samples did not have any coffee content, while many other samples did not have sufficient coffee content as registered.

Similar cases were also discovered in Daklak and Gia Lai provinces as the country’s key coffee growing areas. Nguoi Lao Dong relates how Daklak police recently stormed into a coffee processing plant in the province to find scores of bags of corn and soybeans being roasted to make coffee, and the owner simply mixed them with chemicals to make it taste and feel like coffee. More recently, says the paper, Gia Lai Police last year also found at a processing facility 129 kilos of a mixture of coffee beans, soybeans and other additives. The coffee content in the batch was only 10%.

Just two days prior to the coffee scandal, local newspapers also gave a wide coverage of how a drug firm in Haiphong City produced cancer medication from bamboo charcoal, a case that is under investigation by police and relevant agencies now. Connecting the two cases as highly unethical business, Lao Dong in a commentary says in a sarcastic tone that if ones acquire cancer due to drinking “battery coffee,” they should use “charcoal drug” as the right cure.

The production of fake items, more gravely food and drinks, has become quite rampant and shown no sign of abating, says Lao Dong. As the cruelty towards consumers knows no boundaries, it is high time for law enforcement agencies to take a real tough stance against violators.

“There should even death penalty in the law against those committing such cruel crimes,” says a reader in Nguoi Lao Dong.

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