Melamine-tainted milk: China begins trial of dairy firm officials

December 31st, 2008 - 11:18 am ICT by IANS  

Shijiazhuang (China), Dec 31 (Xinhua) A court in northern Chiba Wednesday began trial of four senior executives of Sanlu Group, the major dairy producer at the centre of the country’s tainted milk scandal that claimed lives of at least six infants.The court in Shijiazhuang, capital city of Hebei province, tried Tian Wenhua, the former general manager of Sanlu, and three other senior executives on charges of “producing and selling fake or substandard commodities”.

The three other executives are former deputy general managers Wang Yuliang and Hang Zhiqi, and Wu Jusheng, a former executive in charge of the firm’s milk division.

The four defendants were arrested Sep 26.

Tian told the court that she learned about the tainted milk complaints from consumers in mid-May, and then the company set up a working team led by her to handle the case.

Sanlu Group submitted a written report about the contaminated milk powder to the Shijiazhuang city government Aug 2, she said.

The latest cases in the Shijiazhuang Intermediate People’s Court followed trials this week and last week of 17 others accused of producing, selling or adding melamine-laced “protein powder” to milk, or selling tainted milk.

Hebei courts have still not announced verdicts against the 17 defendants tried earlier.

If convicted of producing and selling fake or substandard products, the defendants could be sentenced to at least 10 years in jail or even to death.

Government officials accuse the diary firm of knowing the Melamine contamination problem since March but not ordering a national recall of the powder until September.

Melamine is used as a binding agent and coating for particle, fibre and laminated board in furniture. It is also used to make fertiliser.

According to the Chinese health ministry, the milk scandal killed at least six infants and about 294,000 children were treated for urinary problems such as kidney stones.

The dairy firm stopped production Sep 12 and filed for bankruptcy earlier this month in the face of an 1.1 billion yuan ($161 million) debt.

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