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China Delivers Harsh Sentences to Tainted Milk Culprits


A Chinese court has handed down death sentences to two men implicated in a tainted-milk scandal that killed at least six infants and sickened hundreds of thousands of others.

The Intermediate People's Court in Shijiazhuang issued the first verdicts in a nationwide scandal surrounding milk powder tainted with the industrial chemical melamine.

Two men, Zhang Yujun and Geng Jinping, were sentenced to death. Zhang ran a workshop that allegedly was China's largest source of melamine used in the tainted dairy products. Geng was convicted of producing and selling toxic foodstuffs.

The court sentenced Tian Wenhua, the former head of the dairy company at the center of the scandal, to life in prison and fined her nearly $4 million. She was found guilty of making and selling fake or substandard products.

Her company, the now-bankrupt Sanlu Group, was fined more than $7 million. Six other former Sanlu executives were sentenced to jail, for five to 15 years.

Zhao Lianhai, whose four-year-old son was sickened by tainted milk, expressed satisfaction with the two death sentences.

At the same time, Zhao says he thinks former Sanlu head Tian should also have been charged with selling poisonous or harmful foodstuffs, which would have carried a maximum penalty of death. He says the charge was not fair. He says her life sentence is a mistake.

He says he and other parents also are disappointed that no Chinese officials have had to face formal charges.

Zhao has set up a web site to help organize parents whose children were sickened. He says only about seven parents showed up for the sentencing. Authorities detained at least two sets of parents of melamine victims, as they attempted to travel to the heavily-guarded Shijiazhuang courthouse.

The scandal involving tainted milk broke in September, although Sanlu authorities knew of problems with their company's products months earlier.

Middlemen who sold milk to dairy companies had watered down the raw milk and then mixed it with melamine, which gives an artificially high reading for protein.

Melamine is normally used to make plastics and fertilizer. If ingested in large amounts, it can cause kidney stones and kidney failure.

The discovery of melamine in Chinese dairy exports also triggered many product recalls overseas.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu says her government has paid "great attention to food safety."

Jiang says, after the Sanlu case broke, the Chinese government took measures to strengthen food safety rules and regulations. She says China is willing to work with the international community to improve food safety.


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