Man gets death penalty over China milk scandal

A Chinese court on Thursday gave the death penalty to a man involved in making some of the tainted milk that killed six babies and sickened about 300 000 others, state media reported.

A court in northern China convicted Zhang Yujun of endangering public security by producing and selling milk laced with the industrial chemical melamine, Xinhua news agency said, announcing the first verdict in the scandal.

Another man who bought the tainted milk powder from Zhang and resold it was sentenced to life in prison, Xinhua said in a later dispatch.

State media had reported earlier that verdicts would be given on Thursday for all 21 people who went on trial for their involvement in the scandal that last year killed at least six babies and left 294 000 others ill.

The former boss of the dairy firm at the heart of the scandal, Tian Wenhua, and three of her colleagues were among those charged and awaiting verdicts.

Last month Tian pleaded guilty to charges of producing and selling fake or substandard products.

Lawyers had previously said Tian, former head of the Sanlu Group, faced only a maximum penalty of life in prison, and not execution.

Sanlu was the first and biggest dairy producer found to have sold dairy products laced with melamine, a chemical used to make plastics which was mixed into watered-down milk to give the appearance of higher protein levels.

In all, 22 firms were found to have sold tainted milk, and the scandal led to contaminated Chinese dairy products being pulled off shelves around the world.

It was another major blow to the “Made-in-China” reputation that has suffered in recent years amid safety scandals over a wide range of exports, from toys to pet food and dumplings.

In 2007 Zheng Xiaoyu, former head of the food and drug watchdog, the State Food and Drug Administration, was executed for taking bribes and dereliction of duty in the wake of a series of drug safety scandals.

The government last month ordered the Chinese dairy producers to pay $160-million in compensation to the families of babies that died or fell ill.

However, the families and their lawyers have repeatedly criticised the sum as woefully inadequate, with some parents of sick children not being given any money at all and others receiving only $300.

More than 200 families last week filed a suit with the Supreme Court, seeking more compensation.

The 213 families went to the top of the legal system because the government-ordered payment scheme failed to recognise some of them as victims, said Chang Lin, a farmer whose 18-month-old son died in August.

“They haven’t given me any compensation. They haven’t even recognised that my child died because of melamine,” Lin told AFP by telephone from Chongqing city in southwest China.

He said the government had not even recognised his son had died from drinking tainted milk.—Sapa-AFP

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