Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Death sentences in China tainted milk case

John Vause

A Chinese court sentenced three people to death and two others to life in prison for their roles in the country's tainted milk scandal, which killed at least six infants and sickened nearly 300,000 others.

Chinese police surround a court building in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province on December 31, 2008, during the trial.

Chinese police surround a court building in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province on December 31, 2008, during the trial.

Three others received prison terms of five to 15 years each. Many of those sentenced were middlemen who sold melamine to milking stations that added the chemical to the milk.

Security was tight ahead of the verdicts as police set up roadblocks a kilometer (0.63 miles) in each direction from the courthouse.

Twenty-one suspects went on trial late last month, including Tian Wenhua, former board chairwoman and general manager of the Chinese dairy company Sanlu Group, who pleaded guilty on December 31 for her role in the scandal. The company was one of the main distributors of the tainted milk, which caused kidney stones and urinary tract problems in hundreds of thousands of children.

Tian and three other executives are on trial for producing and selling fake or substandard products. The other executives -- former deputy general managers Wang Yuliang and Hang Zhiqi, and Wu Jusheng, a former executive heading Sanlu's milk division -- were arrested in late September. Video Watch how China's dairy industry has been affected by the scandal »

From early August to mid-September, Sanlu produced 904 metric tons of melamine-tainted baby formula powder and sold 813 metric tons of tainted products made with contaminated milk, Xinhua reported.

Chinese investigators found melamine in nearly 70 milk products from more than 20 companies, according to quality control official Li Changjiang, who was eventually forced to resign.

The Ministry of Health has said the contamination likely caused the deaths of at least six babies. Another 296,000 infants suffered from urinary problems, such as kidney stones.

The tainted formula came to light in September after babies who were fed milk powder produced by the Sanlu Group, which recently filed for bankruptcy, had developed kidney stones.

Melamine is commonly used in coatings and laminates, wood adhesives, fabric coatings, ceiling tiles and flame retardants. Some Chinese dairy plants added the chemical to milk products so they would appear to have a higher protein level. Learn more about melamine »

Victims of tainted baby formula are expected to be compensated by the 22 Chinese dairy producers that made the milk.

"The enterprises offered to shoulder the compensation liability," the country's Dairy Industry Association said late last month, according to Xinhua.

"By doing so, they hope to earn understanding and forgiveness of the families of the sickened children."

The group said victims will receive a one-time cash payment, but did not provide the amounts, according to Xinhua.

No date for the payments was given. The dairies also raised money to cover medical bills for any after-effects suffered as a result of the poisoning, the association said.

See also

CNN blogs post - Surviving the milk scandal in China

And a paranthesis: China acquired in the last decade a key-role on the international political and economic stage. The last year Olympic Games contributed significantly to its rebranding not affected too much by the protests against the situation in Tibet or the human rights. We are talking about a huge country with a not fully acknowledged potential in terms of resources of any kind. But, in the same time, we have corruption and a problematic environmental situation and a tremendous shortage of reliable information. Aren't we part of a Chinese shadow theatre?

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