The Buri Ram Justice Office has been ordered to investigate a case in which excise officials in the northeastern province reportedly fined a 60-year-old female vendor for selling “Khao Mak”, a traditional Thai fermented sweet rice dessert that produces a touch of natural alcohol while being cooked.
The local authorities were reported as having initially imposed a Bt50,000 fine, which they later reduced to Bt10,000. The Buri Ram Excise Office disputed the reported sum, clarifying that it was always Bt10,000. It was imposed on vendor Saneh Poung-ram at a market in Muang district on July 22 over her possession, for sale, of 11 bags of “Sato” traditional Thai liquor fermented and distilled from rice – not the Khao Mak, they said.
Deputy Permanent Secretary for Justice Thawatchai Thaikhiew has ordered an investigation of the incident.
Thawatchai said the Constitutional Court had long ago removed Khao Mak fermented rice powder from the Liquor Act's list of controlled alcoholic items. The rice powder yields more sugar than alcohol, which was produced in the process only at a low level of up to 5 degree. As well, controlling Khao Mak may violate the local-wisdom protections under the Constitution, Thawatchai noted. The Supreme Court also has ruled that Khao Mak could not be considered liquor under the Liquor Act 1950’s article 4, Thawatchai added.
In such cases officials should provide information in an initial encounter so that people could abide by the law. Only if they continued to flout it should the law be enforced on the violators, said Thawatchai.
However, Muang Buri Ram Excise Office head Nopparat Janyawarangkoon said the fine was for 11 bags of Sato liquor in the possession of the vendor for sale at the Khlong Thom weekend market. He said the vendor was brought to the office, along with the items, to pay the Bt10,000 fine for possessing above 10 litres of the illegally produced liquor, and the vendor was issued a receipt for payment.
Vendors at the market said some vendors would bring Sato to sell at Bt20 per bag. The trade was confined to regular customers and so kept under the radar of authorities.