Dairy boss on trial over tainted milk scandal

The former head of the dairy group Sanlu, Tian Wenhua, stood trial over her firm's mass production of milk laced with melamine that killed six babies and and contaminated 294,000 more. Tian faces life imprisonment if convicted.


AFP- The former boss at the dairy firm at the centre of China's tainted milk scandal stood trial here Wednesday over a trail of death and sickness that pushed Chinese products off store shelves around the world.

Relatives of the victims gathered at the court in this northern Chinese city, calling for justice after chemicals-laced milk killed six babies and left another 294,000 suffering kidney and urinary troubles.

But lawyers monitoring the case for the families said the charges laid against the former head of the Sanlu Group, Tian Wenhua, were weaker than initially expected and she would thus escape the death penalty.

Sanlu was the first and biggest dairy producer found to have sold milk laced with melamine, a chemical used to make plastics which was mixed into watered-down milk to give the appearance of higher levels of protein.

The 66-year-old Tian and three colleagues were put on trial on charges of producing and selling defective products, which lawyers said would mean a maximum punishment of life in prison.

"They should execute them all," shouted Hua Lian, a 45-year-old woman who described herself as a milk consumer and had come to the court to voice her anger.

"They have to deal with these people harshly. Otherwise people will never learn."

In all, 22 Chinese dairy firms were found to have sold tainted milk, and the government last week ordered them to pay 160 million dollars in compensation to the families of babies that died or fell ill.

The families and their lawyers criticised the sum as woefully inadequate, with some parents set to only receive about 300 dollars.

"I'm a farmer. I don't have money to pay for the treatment. My son is still sick and he's not been able to get treatment," said one man in a small group of protesters who demonstrated outside the court before police pushed them away.

The roughly half dozen relatives of sickened children who protested held up sheets of paper that read: "The victims have a right to participate in judicial proceedings."

This reflected an apparently widespread complaint from the relatives of the victims that they had not been allowed to tell the courts their version of events, and that authorities had rejected civil compensation lawsuits.

"We asked to participate in the trial, in the prosecution. We felt that we had a right to participate as we represent the victims," said Xu Zhiyong, a lawyer working for a group of people seeking to sue Sanlu and other milk firms.

"But the court refused to allow us to participate. They didn't want the testimony of the people we represent. We think the court has violated legal procedures by not letting us participate."

Foreign press were not allowed into the Shijiazhuang court.

In China, trials often last just one day and verdicts are announced shortly afterwards.

The four Sanlu executives are the highest profile figures to be hauled before the courts over the scandal, after 17 people mostly accused of being middlemen went on trial in recent days.

Those verdicts have yet to be announced, but some of the defendants could face the death penalty.

The milk scandal became a global problem after it emerged some of the tainted products had been exported, leading to recalls of Chinese dairy foods around the world.

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