A Chinese court on Thursday sentenced two men to death for making and selling some of the tainted milk that killed six babies and sickened nearly 300,000 others, state media reported.
Another man was given a suspended death sentence, while at least four others were given jail terms ranking from five years to life, Xinhua news agency said.
State media had reported earlier that verdicts would be given on Thursday, while for all 21 people who went on trial for their involvement in the scandal that last year killed at least six babies and left 294,000 others ill.
China \’attentive to safety\’
Immediately after the verdicts were announced, the Chinese government sought to show it was making great efforts to improve not only its milk industry, but all its food products, following numerous safety scandals in recent years.
“The Chinese government authorities have been paying great attention to food safety and product quality,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters.
“After the case broke out, the Chinese government strengthened rules and regulations and took a lot of other measures to strengthen regulations and monitor food safety.”
The former boss of the dairy firm at the heart of the scandal, Tian Wenhua, and three of her colleagues were among those charged and awaiting verdicts.
Lawyers had previously said Tian, former head of the Sanlu Group, faced only a maximum penalty of life in prison, and not execution.
Several firms involved
Sanlu was the first and biggest dairy producer found to have sold dairy products laced with melamine, a chemical used to make plastics which was mixed into watered-down milk to give the appearance of higher protein levels.
In all, 22 firms were found to have sold tainted milk, and the scandal led to contaminated Chinese dairy products being pulled off shelves around the world.
It was another major blow to the “Made-in-China” reputation that has suffered in recent years amid safety scandals over a wide range of exports, from toys to pet food and dumplings.
The government last month ordered the Chinese dairy firms to pay 160 million dollars in compensation to the families of babies that died or fell ill.
However the families and their lawyers have repeatedly criticised the sum as woefully inadequate, with some parents of sick children not being given any money at all and others receiving just 300 dollars.
Over 200 families last week filed a suit with the Supreme Court, seeking more compensation.
The 213 families went to the top of the legal system because the government-ordered payment scheme failed to recognise some of them as victims, said Chang Lin, a farmer whose 18-month-old son died in August.
“They haven\’t given me any compensation. They haven\’t even recognised that my child died because of melamine,” Lin told AFP by telephone from Chongqing city in southwest China.
He said the government had not even recognised his son had died from drinking tainted milk.