DHAKA: A court on Tuesday sentenced three Bangladeshis to jail for making and selling a toxic paracetamol syrup that doctors say killed hundreds of children in the 1990s, a prosecutor said.
Judge Abdur Rashid found the trio guilty and sentenced them to a maximum of 10 years' jail in the first verdicts into the tragedy that saw children suffer deadly kidney failure after taking the syrup.
"They deserve the highest punishment under the country's drug law as it was a heinous crime against humanity," the judge was quoted as saying by prosecutor Shaheen Ahmed Khan.
The three were all employees of a local drug company accused of replacing one of the syrup's ingredients with a cheaper alternative that is normally used in the leather dyeing industry.
Helena Pasha, the owner of drug maker Adflame Pharmaceutical Limited, and Mizanur Rahman, the manager, were found guilty on charges of drug adulteration and taken into custody after hearing the verdicts.
The court in Dhaka that handles drug-related crimes also convicted in absentia Nigendra Nath Bala, an employee in charge of production, who has been on the run since the trial began.
The tragedy was first exposed in the 1990s when doctors said hundreds of children died, forcing the government to crack down on the local drugs industry.
But dozens more children died in 2009 when the toxic chemical was again discovered in paracetamol syrup.
Prosecutors have filed cases against five companies blamed for the tragedies that one top paediatrician said dated back to the 1980s and could have killed as many as two thousand infants.
The trial of the three finally restarted in 2009 after it was halted in 1994.
A series of appeals and other delays have stalled the trials of others charged over the scandal.
"We hope we can now resume the cases against the other companies which were involved in the making of adulterated paracetamol," Khan told AFP. Two people were also acquited on Tuesday.
The court was told that Adflame added diethylene glycol, a highly toxic organic solvent used mainly in the leather industry, into its paracetamol syrup which was marketed in leading hospitals.
Mohammed Hanif, a top paediatric nephrologist, told AFP that Bangladeshi hospitals first started seeing children with kidney failure in late 1982.
But he said it took another ten years to establish that their deaths were due to diethylene glycol.
"By then several thousand children had died by consuming diethylene glycol-laced paracetamol syrup," said Hanif, whose research paper on the tragedy was published in the British Medical Journal in 1995. (AFP)