2 men sentenced to death in China's milk scandal

A Chinese court on Thursday sentenced two men to execution and gave a former top executive a life sentence for their roles in the country's deadly tainted milk scandal.
Geng Jinping, left, manager of a milk production base, was sentenced to death Thursday. His brother, Geng Jinzhu, right, was a driver at the base and was also on trial in the tainted milk case. ((Ding Lixin/Xinhua/Associated Press))
A Chinese court on Thursday sentenced two men to execution and gave a former top executive a life sentence for their roles in the country's deadly tainted milk scandal.

The former boss of Sanlu Group, Tian Wenhua, 66, was handed a life sentence by the Intermediate People's Court in Shijiazhuang. Sanlu was the company at the heart of the scandal.

Tian is the highest-ranking official charged in the probe into milk contaminated by melamine, a chemical used in the manufacturing of plastics that was used to give milk an apparently higher nutrition content in protein tests.

At least six children died, and nearly 300,000 people became ill from consuming the contaminated infant formula and milk products. Melamine can cause kidney stones and kidney failure when large amounts are ingested.

Tian pleaded guilty to charges of producing and selling fake or substandard products during her trial at the end of December.

Tian Wenhua, Sanlu Group Co.'s former board chairwoman and general manager, is taken by bailiffs into court to stand trial in Shijiazhuang on Dec. 31, 2008. On Thursday she received a life sentence. ((Ding Lixin/Xinhua/Associated Press))
Zhang Yujun, 40, was sentenced to death for running a workshop that was allegedly China's largest source of melamine.

Geng Jinping was also given the death penalty for producing and selling toxic food.

They were among 12 defendants sentenced Thursday in connection with the case. Others were given prison terms of five to 15 years.

Parents remain angry

Families of babies made sick by contaminated milk gathered outside the court to hear the sentences read out.

Dozens of police officers guarded the courthouse and cordoned off the surrounding area, asking victims' families to keep about 100 metres away.

"Many parents are angry that only middlemen got the death penalty and that some company and government officials faced lesser charges or avoided prosecution," CBC's Michel Cormier reported from Beijing.

Zheng Shuzhen, from Henan province, said her one-year-old granddaughter died in June after drinking Sanlu milk and was upset by Thursday's decision, saying Tian's sentence was too light.

"My granddaughter died. She [Tian] should die, too, she should be shot. She has brought such harm to the public, to children," said Shuzhen.

"I've run out of tears…. That's why I came today. Even if [Tian] dies a hundred times over, it won't lessen our hate."

More than 200 families whose children died or were made ill by poisoned milk in China have appealed to the country's highest court, demanding higher compensation than the amount offered and long-term treatment for their babies.

The 22 Chinese dairies involved in the scandal proposed about $200 million in compensation.

The Chinese government has vowed to crack down on food safety crimes in the future, but warns there could be an increase in cases as businesses try to cut corners in times of recession, said Cormier.

With files from the Associated Press