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SEPANG, Oct 3 — In a bid to arrest the sale of counterfeit cigarettes and spirits responsible for the latest spate of methanol-poisoning cases, the Customs Department has proposed adding corporal punishment and raising the fine for smuggling contraband items.
Customs director-general Datuk Subromaniam Tholasy said his department has proposed amending Section 135(1) of the Customs’ Act 1967 to increase the fine to a minimum RM100,000 and for the convicted person to be caned.
“The offences will not only include smuggling and selling but also storing, transporting, distributing and possessing such contraband items.
“We are confident the proposal will be brought to Parliament soon,” he said during a press conference here today.
Subromaniam said such strong measures are needed to send a message to those who are involved in smuggling and selling counterfeit alcohol and cigarettes.
“The methanol-poisoning incident was a very serious incident and to ensure it does not happen again, we need stricter laws.
“Currently, suspects who are charged under this Act only pay a fine of maximum 20 times the value of the duty or tax, whichever that is higher, of the smuggled item, three-year imprisonment, or both.
“Once the law is amended, even if the person was only involved in the selling of only one bottle of liquor or one carton of cigarette, they will have to pay a minimum fine of RM100,000,” he said.
Subromaniam said the proposal was made last year.
The Health Ministry said it was looking to find the source of methanol-tainted commercial liquor in the market as the number of fatalities rose to 45 nationwide.
Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad said yesterday that the number of recorded deaths from methanol poisoning as at noon on Monday was 45 from a total of 98 cases reported.
Dzulkefly said the key now was to investigate the source of the supply, whether it was produced domestically or imported, to prevent further poisoning cases.
Methanol, the simplest form of alcohol, is present in small quantities in wine and beer, but toxic levels of it can be found in home-brewed spirits due to less sophisticated distillation systems compared to commercial brands.
The minister advised people to be more careful when consuming alcoholic drinks by checking the labels to make sure they are not bootleg products.