Plant owners in battery chemicals-tainted pepper scandal to face charges

By Thien Nhan    September 3, 2018 | 10:15 am GMT+7
Plant owners in battery chemicals-tainted pepper scandal to face charges
Dak Nong police found an employee of Loan mixing coffee bean skin with a black liquid made from battery powder and dirt. Photo acquired by VnExpress

Authorities have wrapped up investigation into an establishment that produced impurities for a trading firm to contaminate its pepper.

Its owner Nguyen Thi Thanh Loan, 43, and her accomplices would be charged with "violating regulations on food safety and hygiene", prosecutors in the Central Highlands province of Dak Nong said.

According to investigators, Phan Thi Dung, 56, from the southern province of Binh Phuoc, opened an agricultural products trading company a few years ago.

The company's customers accepted pepper with up to 2 percent impurity whereas Dung found that she was able to buy pepper from farmers with impurity levels below this threshold.

So she hatched a plan to add impurities to pepper until it reached the 2 percent limit for more profit, investigators said.

Through an intermediary she contracted Loan’s establishment in Dak Nong to produce impurities by dyeing a mixture of coffee bean skin and gravel with battery chemicals.

In three years until they were busted last April Loan had managed to sell 15-20 truckloads of impurities, with 15-20 tons of impurities per truck, at VND9,000-12,000 per kilogram ($0.38-0.51 per 2.2 pounds), investigators said.

The intermediary, Le Thi Hong Tho, 39, director of another trading company in Dak Nong, received VND1,000-3,000 per kilogram.

Dak Nong environmental police and agriculture inspectors had raided Loan's establishment in April and found an employee mixing coffee bean skin with a black liquid made from battery powder and dirt.

They seized 21 tons of the mixture, 192 kilograms of crushed batteries, 35 kilograms of a black powder derived from them and 40 liters (10.6 gallons) of dyeing liquid.

A week later police raided Dung's company in Binh Phuoc and seized nine tons of pepper mixed with the concoction she had bought from Loan.

Tests showed that the impurity rate of the seized pepper was up to 18.34 percent, and it contained many substances banned from use in foods such as manganese dioxide, zinc chloride and ammonium chloride.

Dak Nong authorities are also completing procedures to charge Loan, Dung, Tho, Loan's husband, and their truck driver with violating food safety regulations, which is punishable by up to 20 years in jail.

 
 
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