Trio sells dubious tonic despite risks

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Trio sells dubious tonic despite risks

Investigators from the Seoul city government are seeking arrest warrants for three men found to have manipulated the nutritional claims of a health tonic they were selling, which resulted in the hospitalization of 36 people.

The authorities confiscated 3,390 boxes of the product and are actively seeking to arrest the con men, including a man whose surname is Cha. The trio sold the tonic via their website and door-to-door. The drinks were branded as the extract of Fructus corni, a traditional plant. However, they actually contained less than 1 percent of the substance and were found to have excessive amounts of niacin, according to the investigators.

The alleged scammers pocketed 73.5 billion won ($69.1 million) over three years by selling the beverages at 200 times more than the original price, the city office said in a statement.

Fifty-two consumers reported health problems after drinking the tonic and 36 have been hospitalized, according to authorities.

Investigators noted that the high amount of niacin was likely to blame. The mixtures contained amounts three to seven times higher than the recommended daily requirement.

Extreme doses of niacin can cause severe flushing of the skin, dizziness, itchiness or rapid heartbeat. Some of the symptoms that consumers developed overlapped with these effects.

When consumers complained that they felt ill, the sellers convinced them that it was merely the health-enhancing properties at work.

“[The con men] were aware of the fact that their products could have health risks for consumers,” said Choi Gyu-hae, the head of the city’s special investigation team, which is in charge of cracking down on scams and fraud cases that affect civilians.

“But they kept selling their products, making money by deceiving people,” he added.


BY PARK EUN-JEE [ejpark@joongang.co.kr]

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