PANAMA CITY, June 1, 2007 (AFP) - The director of Panama's Social Security Fund was arrested Friday in the deaths of more than 100 patients in recent months due to contaminated medicinal syrup.
Rene Luciani's arrest came after two former directors of the Social Security Fund, Juan Jovane and Rolando Villalaz, were taken into custody Thursday in the same case of syrup contaminated with diethylene glycol, an industrial solvent used for automobile brake fluid and antifreeze.
Luciani Friday told prosecutors he did not fear the charges because "there is no evidence against me." Prosecutor Dimas Guevara has led for the past five months the exhumation of 353 bodies in order to check if their deaths were related to one of some 14 medicines for cough, allergy and flu produced by the SSF laboratory and contaminated with diethylene glycol.
The medicines were produced with glycerin imported from China.
Officially the government has said that 52 people have died from the tainted drugs. The dead, mostly patients in the 60s with kidney problems, fell sick around the end of 2006.
On Thursday Chinese officials said following a probe into the case that the Chinese exporter was not to blame for the deaths. Wei Chuanzhong, vice minister of the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, said the investigation showed the overseas companies that bought the diethylene glycol misused it, thinking it was glycerin, a widely used sweetener.
In another case, the Chinese said that toothpaste produced by two companies in eastern China and exported to Panama contained levels of the toxin that were not harmful to humans, Wei said. Some of the toothpaste was then re-exported to the Dominican Republic. No reports of poisoning from the toothpaste have yet surfaced.