A court in Uzbekistan on Monday sentenced 23 persons, including an Indian, to jail terms for the deaths of 68 children due to contaminated cough syrup produced by Noida-based Marion Biotech Limited, reported Reuters.

The Indian convict, Singh Raghvendra Pratap, was handed the longest sentence of 20 years. He worked as an executive director at Quramax Medical, a firm that sold medicines produced by Marion Biotech.

During the trial, the authorities in Uzbekistan had alleged that distributors of the cough syrup had bribed local officials to skip mandatory testing.

State prosecutor Saidkarim Akilov had alleged that Pratap paid $33,000 (around Rs 27 lakh) to officials at the Centre for Expertise and Standardisation of Medicinal Products to skip a mandatory inspection of his products.

Besides Pratap, the court handed prison terms to former senior officials who were in charge of licensing imported medicines.

The convicts were found guilty of selling substandard or counterfeit medicines, neglecting their official duties, forging documents, evading tax and bribing officials.

The court also directed seven of the convicts to pay compensation of $80,000 (Rs 66,29,436) to the families of 68 children who died due to the syrup, and four other children who became disabled, reported Reuters.

The seven convicts will also pay $16,000 (Rs 13,25,887) to $40,000 (Rs 33,14,718) to the parents of eight other children who were harmed by the medicine.

The health ministry of Uzbekistan had first flagged the incident in December 2022 saying that 18 children died after consuming the Dok 1 Max Syrup which is an anti-cold medication. Preliminary investigation had shown that the cough syrup contained ethylene glycol, which is a toxic substance.

Syrups are ideally not supposed to contain even traces of ethylene glycol, which is found in industrial-grade glycerine that is not permitted for medicinal purposes. For medical use, Glycerine IP, or Indian Pharmacopoeia, grade must be used in the making of a syrup.

Ethylene glycol and diethylene glycol can cause vomiting, convulsions, affect the circulatory system and cause acute renal failure.

In December 2022, the Uttar Pradesh drug regulator suspended the manufacturing facility of Marion Biotech in Noida after noting multiple violations of good manufacturing practices. The good manufacturing practices system, put in place by the World Health Organization, is aimed at ensuring that products are “consistently produced and controlled to the quality standards appropriate to their intended use and as required by the marketing authorisation”.

Marion has been asked to submit a compliance report to prove that they adhere to the required standards. Following this, the Drug Controller General of India will take a call on allowing them to resume manufacturing.

Also read: India’s cough syrup testing regime has a deadly blind spot