Shijiazhuang: A Chinese court on Thursday handed down death penalty to a man convicted of endangering public safety in the first sentencing connected with the contaminated milk scandal that has shocked the country.
The Intermediate People’s Court in Shijiazhuang sentenced 40-year-old Zhang Yujun to death for running a workshop that was allegedly China’s largest source of melamine, which was blamed in the deaths of at least six babies and the illnesses of nearly 300,000 others.
Court spokesman Wang Wei said a second man, Zhang Yanzhang, 24, was sentenced to life imprisonment for endangering public safety. He was accused of working with Zhang to buy and resell powder to others.
The court is expected to hand down a sentence later on Thursday for Tian Wenhua, the 66-year-old general manager and chairwoman for Sanlu Group Co, the dairy at the heart of the scandal. She is the highest profile official charged in the food safety crisis widely seen as a national disgrace that highlighted corporate and official shortcomings and corruption.
Tian has pleaded guilty to charges of producing and selling fake or sub-standard products after infant formula made by her company was tainted with the melamine.
Sanlu, along with the other 21 dairy companies involved in the scandal, have proposed a 1.1 billion yuan ($160 million) compensation plan. More than 200 families have filed suit demanding higher compensation and long-term treatment for their babies.
During her 31 December trial, Tian admitted she had known of problems with her company’s products for months before informing authorities. The scandal was exposed in September.
Investigations showed that middlemen who sold milk to dairy companies were watering down raw milk, then mixing in nitrogen-rich melamine to fool quality tests for protein content.
Normally used to make plastics and fertilizer, melamine can cause kidney stones and kidney failure when ingested in large amounts. The discovery of melamine in dairy exports such as chocolate and yogurt triggered a slew of product recalls overseas.