The FINANCIAL -- The Czech
government Thursday banned liquor exports under EU pressure after a wave
of poisonings from methanol-tainted bootlegged alcohol killed 23 people
and sickened scores more.
The government now "bans everyone from distributing spirits with over 20 percent alcohol content and from exporting them outside the Czech territory," Health Minister Leos Heger told reporters.
The measure came after the European Commission had threatened an EU ban on liquor from the Czech Republic, a member of the 27-member bloc since 2004.
"The government received information today saying... the EC was planning to ban exports of alcohol made or bottled in the Czech Republic with over 20 percent alcohol content," said Prime Minister Petr Necas.
"The ban would have been in effect for two months," he said, adding that it could theoretically have been lifted earlier if this had been approved by more than half of the EU member states.
Rather than wait for an EU ban, "it is more advantageous for the Czech Republic to impose and remove the export barrier on its own," Necas told reporters after an extraordinary cabinet meeting Thursday.
The export ban follows a domestic ban last Friday on sales of spirits with alcohol content over 20 percent -- the first in the country of 10.5 million that has the world's second highest adult alcohol intake after Moldova.
The move has angered drinkers, bar owners and distillers alike, and it has also hit the state budget, which is losing 5.2 million euros ($6.8 million) in sales tax revenue each week.
Looking for ways to end the ban, the government on Wednesday agreed to introduce new excise stamps on spirits, which it said would be made available to producers by around the end of next week.
As EUbusiness reported, ministers also decided to introduce a "birth certificate" for each bottle of spirits, allowing it to be traced back to its producer.
Czech police said about 30 people had been charged in relation to the methanol poisoning and 13 were being held in provisional detention.
Meanwhile, more than 30 people remained in hospital across the Czech Republic with methanol poisoning from the bootleg spirits, some of them in serious condition and placed in artificial comas.