China milk scandal bosses on trial

Top dairy executives face life imprisonment if convicted for selling tainted milk.

    More than a dozen milk suppliers have gone
    on trial in the past few days [Reuters]

    Xinhua said 17 others accused of producing and marketing the industrial chemical melamine to milk producers, as well as mixing it into raw milk sold to major dairies, have gone on trial in the past few days, with at least four facing the death penalty.


    Melissa Chan, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Beijing, said the victims' families and their lawyers view the court proceedings as a show trial.

    "If they offered me compensation, I won't accept, because what do I need this money for since my son is gone"

    Tian Xiaowei, farmer

    The milk scandal broke after thousands of babies fell ill after consuming infant formula tainted with melamine.

    The scandal led to the deaths of at least six babies and caused close to 300,000 others across China to suffer urinary problems.

    Authorities say suppliers mixed the nitrogen-rich melamine powder – which can cause kidney stones and kidney failure when ingested in large amounts – into raw milk to cheat quality tests for protein.

    Last week a court in the northern city of Shijiazhuang declared Sanlu bankrupt in the wake of mounting debts arising from the scandal.

    Sanlu is 43 per cent owned by New Zealand dairy giant Fronterra.

    The government said some of the dairy companies have offered a $160m compensation plan in the form of cash payouts and a medical fund to cover bills for lingering health problems.

    'Compensation too low'

    At least six babies have died after drinking melamine-laced milk [EPA]
    Some families have also said that the planned payout by dairies was too low, and their lawyers pledged to continue attempts to sue for more compensation.

    "If they offered me compensation, I won't accept, because what do I need this money for since my son is gone," said Tian Xiaowei, an apple farmer and part-time truck driver, whose baby died in August from what he said was drinking melamine-tainted milk powder.

    Xu Zhiyong, who is part of a legal team representing 63 families, said he had advised them not to sign the compensation agreement because they planned to push for the trial of the dairy companies.

    "The compensation is too low and no victims were involved in the decision-making
    process," said Xu, whose attempts to sue the companies involved have so far been rejected by the courts.

    The scandal widely seen as a national disgrace had led to the recall of thousands of Chinese-made milk products, both in China and around the world.

    At least a dozen individual lawsuits filed against Sanlu are caught in a legal limbo as courts have neither accepted nor refused the cases.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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