Indonesian police: 4 suspects allegedly repackaged ingredients in cough syrup deaths

Arie Firdaus and Tria Dianti
Indonesian police: 4 suspects allegedly repackaged ingredients in cough syrup deaths Mothers of victims of acute kidney injury attend a preliminary hearing for a class-action lawsuit filed against the Indonesian government and drug companies for allowing the sale of tainted cough syrup at the court in Jakarta, Jan. 17, 2023.
[Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana/Reuters]

Indonesian police on Monday named four company executives as suspects in an alleged scheme to save money by distributing industrial-grade chemicals to drug-makers, causing scores of children given cough syrup to die of kidney failure.

These executives who worked for two companies are now behind bars, officials said. More than 200 children have died of acute kidney failure linked to ingesting syrups that contained ethylene glycol and diethylene glycol, both industrial-grade chemicals.

Police identified the suspects as Endis and Andri Rukmana, directors at CV Samudera Chemical, and Alvio Ignasio Gustan and Aris Sanjaya, directors at CV Anugrah Perdana Gemilang, said Brig. Gen. Pipit Rismanto, director of specific crimes at the national police.

“They bought industrial-grade liquids in the form ethylene glycol whose origins were unclear,” Pipit told journalists.

Ethylene glycol is an alcohol-based organic compound that often serves as an antifreeze agent in vehicles and heating.

Samudera Chemical supplied PT Afi Farma, a drug maker that is being criminally investigated in the case, he said.

The suspects could face up to 15 years in prison if found guilty of violating Indonesia’s health and consumer protection laws, police said.

Officials at Samudra and Anugrah could not be immediately reached for comment. According to the Reuters news agency,  CV Anugrah Perdana Gemilang is the distributor for CV Samudera Chemical.

In addition to the four individuals, police are also investigating three pharmaceutical and chemical companies – PT Fari Jaya, PT Afi Farma and PT Tirta Buana Kemindo – but they have not named any officials deemed responsible from these firms.

A lawyer for the families of the children who died, Awan Puryadi, welcomed the police’s announcement but called for a more thorough investigation.

“Everyone involved in this crime, whether directly or out of negligence, must be held criminally responsible,” Awan told BenarNews.

The families have filed a class-action lawsuit against the Ministry of Health and the food and drug agency, blaming the two agencies for failing to ensure that drugs are safe.

In October, Indonesia’s Drug and Food Monitoring Agency revoked licenses for two pharmaceutical firms that may have used industrial-grade chemicals instead of pharmaceutical-grade substances.

The companies might have cut corners by using industrial-grade chemicals instead of pharmaceutical-grade substances because of higher prices for raw materials during the COVID-19 pandemic, agency chief Penny Lukito said at the time.

According to the health ministry, the first two cases of acute kidney injury were reported in January 2022, but the number rose sharply after August. 

It said children between the ages of 1 and 5 were most affected and had symptoms including fever, loss of appetite and a low output of urine.

Last week, Reuters reported that the World Health Organization (WHO) was investigating whether there was a link between manufacturers, whose cough medicines were contaminated, and the deaths of more than 300 children in total in Indonesia, Gambia and Uzbekistan.

WHO is seeking more information about the specific raw materials used by six manufacturers in India and Indonesia to produce medicines with “unacceptable levels of toxins,” Reuters said, citing an unnamed official.

WHO is also considering whether to advise parents around the world to reconsider using cough syrup for children in general while the safety of the product remains in doubt, WHO sources said.

Siti Nadia Tarmizi, a spokeswoman for Indonesia’s health ministry, said there had been no specific request from WHO on the matter.

“We don’t know what is being asked. However, if requested, we are ready to share our data for the benefit of the global community,” Nadia told BenarNews.


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