Five people have been sentenced to jail in the small Central American country of Panama for their roles in a major national scandal in which thousands of people were killed by toxic cough syrup in 2006. Investigators found the medicine, which had been distributed by the Panamanian health ministry, had contained a lethal compound found in antifreeze.
This ingredient, labelled TD glycerin, had been supplied by Medicom, a private health company, and purchased from the Spanish pharmaceutical firm Rasfer International. Ultimately, the chemical had been sourced from China, through a company called CNSC Fortune Way, which had bought it from the Taixing Glycerine Factory. It was found to contain very high amounts of diethylene glycol, a solvent used in antifreeze, heating fuel and brake fluid, which is clear, odourless and has a slightly sweet flavour − as well as being toxic.
The Panamanian authorities say 400 people died after taking the syrup, but some extra-governmental groups claim that the true number could be in the region of 10,000. The resultant scandal led to investigations in Panama, Spain and China.
Five people were sentenced on Friday, including Medicom's former lawyer Angel Ariel de la Cruz Soto, who was awarded five years in jail on top of a fine of $6,000. Four more defendants were given a year each in jail, while six others were acquitted. In all, 26 people in the country were charged.
The scandal first erupted in September 2006, when a Panamanian doctor found that a number of his patients were suffering from acute, unexplained kidney failure often accompanied by what the World Health Organisation (Who) called "severe neurological dysfunction". Patients suffered nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea as well as various unpleasant side-effects to their brains. More than half died despite specialist medical care. The incident has since been labelled the worst DEG poisoning in 70 years.