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10th Anti-Freeze-Tainted Wine Identified, 6 Arrested, Artificial Wine Found

August 1, 1985

Undated (AP) _ A poisonous component of anti-freeze allegedly used for sweetening has been found in 10 West German wines, millions of liters of Austrian wines, at least one brand of grape juice and a champagne. Six more people were arrested in the growing scandal Thursday.

In West Germany, the number of domestic wines found contaminated with diethylene glycol rose to 10 Thursday.

Diethylene glycol is normally used to make anti-freeze for motor vehicles, but apparently was added as a sweetener to wine by many vintners in Austria and increasingly, West Germany.

Austrian health officials on Thursday also said that their investigation of adulterated wines had uncovered a production of fake wines.

The mass-circulation Kurier newspaper reported that one of the suspects in the tainted wine scandal had admitted to helping produce ″many million liters of artificial wine″ in the last few years.

Austrian Agriculture Ministry spokesman Kurt Schober said he knew ″an amount of artifical wine″ had been impounded, but could offer no specifics.

West German Federal Health Ministry spokesman Hartwig Moebes said tests had shown the chemical had been found in the Gaukoengenheimer Vogelsang brand of wine, bottled by the Ferdinand Pieroth vintners in the Rhine River town of Bingen.

The wine had a diethylene glycol content of 120 milligrams per liter, Moebes said.

Experts have determined that more than 100 milligrams - or one-tenth of a gram - of the compound per liter can damage the liver and kidneys, as well as cause diarrhea, vomiting, numbness and abdominal ailments.

However, there have been no confirmed reports of illness related to poisoned wine.

The West German Federal Health Ministry has released a list of some 350 contaminated wines from Austria, where 28 people have been arrested. There have been no arrests in West Germany to date.

However, the prosecutor’s office in Wiesbaden, capital of Hesse state, said Thursday it was investigating four wine-growers suspected of endangering the public safety by poisoning. No further details were given.

Austrian police detained six more people Thursday, including a West German and an Italian, the first foreigners arrested there. No charges yet have been filed in the case, police said.

In West Germany, the opposition Social Democratic Party called Thursday for better monitoring of German wine production.

″The federal health minister spoke self-justifiably of an Austrian scandal. Meanwhile, it has become a German wine scandal,″ Renate Schmidt, deputy chairman of the party’s parliamentary committee on health, said in a statement.

″The scandal appears not to affect the little vintners, but the big bottlers like the Pieroth group - a scandal of the big trade chains,″ she said.

Peter Engel, a spokesman for the Pieroth wine merchants, who market their vintages worldwide, said that none of the Pieroth wines found to be tainted had actually been marketed by the firm. He said they had been wines produced largely for the company’s own employees.

He said no more wine would be sold by Pieroth, which last year recorded sales of $230 million, without being checked for diethylene glycol.

In Linz, capital of Upper Austria province, federal inspectors said an Austrian champagne also contained an undetermined amount of the chemical.

On Wednesday, the Austrian Health Ministry issued a warning against drinking a brand of grape juice found to contain 1 gram per liter of diethylene glycol. The juice was ordered withdrawn from supermarket shelves.

Austrian authorities have impounded more than 4 million liters of suspect wine and millions more liters have been confiscated abroad.