Trade Ministry helping SM Jaleel to clear its name

By Carla Bridglal and Kim Boodram

The Ministry of Trade is ensuring that SM Jaleel is furnished with the proper paperwork to validate that the company does not in fact export Pear-D to the United Kingdom or any other export market, Trade Minister Vasant Bharath said yesterday.

United Kingdom customers have been warned against drinking the soft drink “Pear D”, manufactured by local company SM Jaleel, following the death of a former Royal Navy sailor who drank from a Pear D bottle containing liquid cocaine.

The warning has been issued by British police investigating the death of 32-year-old Joromie Lewis, a Vincentian-born Navy ‘vet’ of Gosport, Hampshire, who died last week Thursday, hours after drinking from a Pear D bottle.

“Clearly, something like this can cause significant damage, but we have information to show that the company has not exported this product to foreign markets, so really it’s now an effort for clamping down on these consolidated shipments to see if we can make sure they are not being illegally distributed,” Bharath told reporters at the International Finance Centre offices in Tower D, International Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain. 

Bharath said incidents like this can happen in any country and it ultimately came down to the rigidity of practices regarding proper labelling and proper controls regarding what is shipped into and out of countries. 

“I did speak with SM Jaleel yesterday and they confirmed that they never, ever exported Pear D out of Trinidad for sale in the UK, or to any other market. So what has happened is that someone has consolidated a shipment, maybe gone to a supermarket, bought a few cases, clearly injected it with cocaine for the purpose of trafficking and it appears one of those bottles may have escaped...” he said.

Hampshire police later said the bottle had been tampered with and filled with the deadly cocktail.

Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) reported online yesterday that Lewis had bought the drink in the Caribbean and taken it back with him to Hampshire.

Tests on the product confirmed that it contained a lethal amount of the class A drug, CMC reported.

The incident has led to a voluntary recall by SM Jaleel of all Pear D 20-ounce soft drinks bearing the code “BB Jan 08 14”, as did the contaminated bottle.

The company issued condolences to Lewis’ family in a statement Thursday and assured the public that Pear D, which has been on the market for 25 years but is not exported to the UK, is still safe to consume.

CMC reported  Detective Supt Richard Pearson of the Hampshire Constabulary as saying, “We are working closely with partner agencies, including Southampton’s Regulatory Services, Public Health England, the Food Standards Agency and other law enforcement agencies, including the National Crime Agency, to minimise any risk to the public and to investigate the circumstances leading to the tragic death of Mr Lewis.”

Pearson added that on the advice of partner agencies and in light of the analysis of the contents of the bottle, a decision was made to issue the public alert by the Food Standards Agency.

“Enquiries to date have not identified any further incidents or similar bottles,” Pearson continued. 

“The investigation suggests that this was likely to be a rogue bottle from a consignment of drugs stored in plastic juice bottles.”

Police believe that the bottle was being used to transport drugs into the United Kingdom and detectives and the Food Standards Agency have also urged British shops that might have the product on their shelves to clear it out.

Pearson said if found, bottles of Pear-D should be taken unopened to the nearest police station for examination.

No arrests have been made yet and SM Jaleel said it will continue to assist Hampshire investigators.

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