Death Sentences in China Tainted-Milk Scandal

Chinese court hands out two death sentences, gives former dairy boss life.

January 22, 2009, 10:36 AM

BEIJING, Jan. 22, 2008— -- Two men have been sentenced to death for their roles in the tainted infant formula scandal that killed six babies and sickened 300,000 more in China last year.

The former chairwoman of the milk company at the center of the scandal was also given life in prison.

In total 12 people were sentenced for their involvement today by the court in the northern city of Shijiazhuang.

Zhang Yujun, who produced and sold melamine-laced protein powder, was convicted of endangering public security. He ran a workshop that was China's largest source of melamine.

Geng Jinping, the other man sentenced to death, was convicted of producing and selling toxic food. Zhang Yanzhang, a third man, was accused of working with Zhang Yujun to buy and resell powder. He was sentenced to life in prison.

Tian Wenhua, the former general manager and chairwoman of Sanlu, the dairy that produced the tainted milk, pleaded guilty and was given a life sentence.

Tian admitted that she knew the milk was tainted and yet allowed the company to continue selling the products for months before she told authorities and ordered a recall. She was also fined $3.6 million.

Many angry parents were not satisfied with the sentence and believe she deserves to die.

"My granddaughter died. She [Tian] should die too. She should be shot. She has brought such harm to the public, to children," said Zheng Shuzhen, of Henan province, whose 1-year-old granddaughter died in June after drinking Sanlu milk.

Fearing an enraged reaction from victims' relatives, police officers guarded the courthouse and put up barriers, telling people to stay 100 yards away. The families of sickened babies gathered there awaiting the announcements.

Some carried protest banners demanding justice. Television pictures from the scene showed signs saying, "Suffering, suffering" and "The people want justice."

"We hope that this Sanlu case is the last and that this Sanlu case will be a lesson for China's food product safety. We hope things like that won't happen again and hurt the victims and people," Zhao Lianhai, the protest organizer, told reporters in Shijiazhuang.

Sentences for Tainted Baby Formulas

On Wednesday, two parents of sick babies were reportedly detained as they tried to travel to Shijiazhuang to witness the sentencing. One lawyer who represents the families said that a father was prevented from getting on a plane in Kunming. Another father was being held at a Beijing police station.

Of the 12 sentenced today, two were given the death penalty, one was given a suspended death sentence, three were jailed for life and the other six were given jail terms of between five and 15 years. The court also fined the now-bankrupt Sanlu Group $7.3 million.

The melamine-tainted baby formula caused babies and young children to develop kidney stones. Many of the children are still in the hospital. Chinese media have covered the scandal every step of the way. The Chinese government pledged to make the perpetrators pay for their crimes.

Sanlu, along with 21 other dairy companies, has offered $160 million in compensation for families whose children were sickened. Some families have accepted their piece of the settlement. About 200 families have filed suits demanding more.

Nine more defendants are awaiting their sentences at different courts in Shijiazhuang. The sentences were handed down just days before the beginning of the Chinese New Year, the biggest holiday here. The timing may reflect Beijing's desire to quell outrage that has persisted since news of the scandal broke.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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