Indonesia arrests suspected deadly homebrew kingpin

Police preparing evidence related to the sale of illegal bootleg alcohol which claimed the lives of dozens across Indonesia, at a police station in Jakarta on April 11, 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA (AFP) - Police have arrested the main suspect in a spate of bootleg alcohol poisonings thought to have killed dozens across Indonesia, authorities said Wednesday (April 18), with the booze kingpin facing life behind bars if he is convicted.

Samsudin Simbolon was caught early Wednesday on a palm oil plantation in Sumatra, ending a nationwide search for a man whose bootleg operation allegedly killed as many as 50 people in neighbouring West Java.

"We will fly him to Jakarta tonight and then to Bandung," West Java police chief Agung Budi Maryoto told AFP, referring to Simbolon.

The alleged bootleg liquor boss will be charged with selling dangerous goods which carries a maximum life term, he added.

In total around 100 Indonesians are believed to have died because of tainted alcohol across the country since March while dozens more are in critical condition in the worst string of homebrew deaths in years.

The world's most populous Muslim majority country banned the sale of alcohol in most convenience stores and small shops outside holiday hotspot Bali in 2015, although it is still widely available in supermarkets, bars and hotels.

High taxes make alcohol expensive, however, so low-paid workers often turn to cheap and sometimes deadly homemade booze instead.

Lab tests have turned up toxic levels of methanol - a form of alcohol used in antifreeze and solvents - in victims' systems.

Some of the other arrested suspects have confessed to mixing pure alcohol with Coca-Cola, energy drinks, cough syrup and even mosquito repellent.

The deaths in West Java - where Simbolon allegedly ran his illegal spirits operation - led the capital city Bandung to declare a state of emergency this month.

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