Chinese milk scam duo face death

13:21, 22 January 2009
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Two men have been given...

Two men have been given the death penalty for their involvement in China`s contaminated milk scandal, accoding to BBC.

The former boss of the Sanlu dairy at the centre of the scandal was given life imprisonment.

They are among 21 sentences being handed down by the court in northern China, where Sanlu is based.

The scandal, in which melamine was added to raw milk to make it appear higher in protein, led to the deaths of six babies and made some 300,000 ill.

It caused outrage in China and has tainted the image of the country`s food industry both at home and abroad.

Illegal workshop

The most senior figure to be sentenced was Tian Wenhua, who was chairwoman of the Sanlu Group, the largest producer of baby milk powder.

When the scandal broke in September, it emerged that Sanlu had known it was selling toxic milk - and allowed around 900 tonnes of it to leave its dairies.

It was only when its New Zealand partner intervened that production stopped.

Tian Wenhua pleaded guilty to charges of producing and selling fake or substandard produce in December.

The Intermediate People`s Court in Shijiazhuang gave her a life sentence and ordered her to pay a fine of 20m yuan ($2.9m).

Sanlu itself was fined 50m yuan ($7.3m), Xinhua news agency reports, even though the firm has been declared bankrupt.

Three other former Sanlu executives were given between five years and 15 years.

Earlier the court sentenced Zhang Yujun and Geng Jinping to death.

Zhang Yujun was accused of running an illegal workshop in Shandong province in eastern China, producing 600 tonnes of the fake protein powder - the largest source of melamine in the country.

He was sentenced along with Zhang Yanzhang - accused of selling on Zhang Yujun`s protein powder - who was given a life sentence.

Milk producer, Geng Jinping had been convicted of producing and selling toxic food to dairy companies.

His associate Geng Jinzhu was given eight years in prison.

Gao Junjie, who was also accused of selling protein powder to milk producers, received a suspended death sentence, Xinhua said.

Huge anger

The scandal left parents terrified and caused outrage across the country, the BBC`s Quentin Sommerville in Beijing says.

It came only four years after an earlier milk powder scandal left 13 babies dead.

The government has scrambled to fight off allegations that it reacted slowly to the latest crisis, by pledging to improve food safety standards and promising to bring the culprits of the scandal to court.

But families of the victims say China`s lack of openness, public accountability and official corruption mean they have little faith that similar poisonings will not happen again, our correspondent reports.

All together, 22 companies sold contaminated milk, which had been supplied by a chain of melamine producers and middlemen.

The dealers added the industrial chemical to boost the apparent protein content of milk, which had often been watered down to make more money.

Major dairy companies bought the milk from such dealers, failing to test the milk for purity and nutritional value.

The result was widespread poisoning of babies, the group most vulnerable to tainted milk as it was their only food source.

Kidney damage was reported in hundreds of thousands of people. At least six babies were killed because of it.

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