Trials Begin in China's Tainted Milk Scandal
The first criminal trials of suspects implicated in China's tainted milk scandal have begun, as milk producers hand out cash payments to victims and the government tries to stem public anger over the incident.
The scandal, which resulted in the deaths of six infants and illnesses to nearly 294,000 other children this summer and fall, forced Chinese government officials to offer financial aid to victim's families and allow for public debate, a rare move for the regime. (China's Ministry of Health estimates 861 children under three were still in the hospital, as of late November.)
China's Dairy Industry Association said 22 dairy producers are making a one-time cash payment to families of victims and establishing a fund to cover medical bills for future health problems. Lawyers told The Associated Press that most children who suffered relatively minor injuries, such as kidney stones, would receive about $290. Sicker children would get roughly $4,380.
Four of the nine defendants in a trial starting today face the death penalty if convicted. The trials of another six men implicated in the scheme started Friday. All are charged with poisoning customers by using melamine, a legal but inexpensive protein booster, to increase profits. (Death penalties are common in cases where defendants are accused of bringing "shame" to the government. Case in point: Zheng Xiaoyu, the former head of China's food and drug agency who was executed last year after he was accused of taking $800,000 in bribes in exchange for approving fake medicines.)
The bad baby formula and Chinese dairy exports set off panic from Asia to Europe. The same melamine toxin in the tainted milk scandal was also linked to the deaths and illnesses of thousands of pets in the United States last year. (The two Chinese producers of the food were quickly shut down. Fish that were given potentially contaminated feed were found safe for human consumption.)
The chief suspect in the tainted milk case is 40-year-old Zhang Yujun, a workshop operator who prosecutors say sold more than 110 tons of the tainted mixture to milk producers between November 2007 and August 2008, at a cost of about $180,000.
Other high-profile officials were caught up in the scandal, too. China's chief quality supervisor resigned in September after reports surfaced that his office allowed the dairy company behind the tainted powdered milk, Sanlu Group, to be exempt from safety inspections. (He had been tasked a year earlier to upgrade food standards, boost safety checks and make sure that inspected food was properly labeled.) And bankrupt Sanlu Group's former chairwoman, Tian Wenhua, faces 15 years to life in prison, if convicted.
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Posted by: infoshop | December 29, 2008 11:53 PM