The Grappa Poisoning Affair in Court: Drink up, folks!
19 September 1998
"I first heard that someone died after drinking my grappa when I was arrested", Milan Zivadinovic told the judge of the Nis municipal court. Zivadinovic is being held responsible for the death of 43 people who didn't have enough money to buy better liquor than his own. Had he read the papers while being held in custody, he would have realized that 43 people died and more than 50 only just survived after drinking grappa labeled as "quality liquor extracted from the finest grapes of southern Serbia".
A number of other people face the jury along with Zivadinovic: two local businessmen, Andjelko Bitevic and Miladin Radic, obtained the methanol and supplied it to Zivadinovic, while two agricultural inspectors, Borivoje Dokic and Marica Zivkovic, failed to act in accordance with their duties.
"I have been in custody for eight months now and I still don't know why it happened or why it didn't happen to me first", Zivadinovic said remorsefully, with his back facing the relatives of the deceased. The Nis municipal court, used more often for banquets and ceremonies than for trials, was full of people wearing all black meaning that they were in mourning. "Away to the gallows with him", screamed one of them, a father who lost two sons. "How would you feel if your child went blind from grappa", cried one of the many women in the courtroom.
We tasted the grappa ourselves before putting it on sale. I drank a glass myself and I didn't think it was any different from the other grappa previously produced", Zivadinovic said. He claimed he knew nothing about methanol and added that producing liquor didn't require much technology, which is probably why he never employed an expert! The last expert who worked for Zivadinovic quit four months before Zivadinovic produced the fatal grappa and said: "Drink up, folks" when he first tested it along with his few associates.
Zivadinovic's excitement with his product was carried to the Nis municipal court by one of his employees, Dejan Racic, who said he had never been trained to produce grappa. He thus denied his former boss who said he didn't need an expert because he had Racic. "I was never trained to produce grappa. My job was to turn the pumps on and off, that's it", Racic said and "stabbed his former boss in the back".
"I want the truth to come out, but I can't say that all these people died drinking my grappa. I don't know how they died", Zivadinovic said. He told the court that he relied on advice he got from various laboratory workers to produce the liquor. He forgot to mention that one of them told him to go to a well-equipped lab and check the exact composition of the 98 percent pure alcohol he used.
Zivadinovic quite simply refused to believe that his grappa killed 43 people and kept saying that he drank the liquor a number of times himself, along with his many relatives who came to celebrate his son's birthday only a few hours before he was arrested. He will have no choice but to believe it if he is found guilty and sentenced to imprisonment. If that doesn't happen, the relatives of the deceased, who have no doubt in their minds as to who is responsible for the death of their loved ones, will most certainly make him believe it.