The former boss of the dairy company at the heart of China’s tainted milk scandal has gone on trial accused of selling fake or substandard products.
Tian Wenhua, ex-board chairman and general manager of Sanlu Group Co, and three other executives are standing trial in China over the contamination.
They could face the death penalty if convicted at the end of the high-profile trials, according to Chinese reports.
Infant formula tainted with the industrial chemical melamine was blamed for the deaths of at least six children and making nearly 300,000 others sick.
Officials said milk suppliers mixed the nitrogen-rick powder, which is commonly used to make plastics and fertilizer, into raw milk to fool quality tests for protein.
When it is consumed in larger amounts, melamine can cause kidney stones and kidney failure.
Tian said in court today that she started investigating the milk-quality issues in May but did not notify the authorities until August.
She and her colleagues stood in front of a three-judge panel after being escorted into the courtroom by police.
Defendant Wang Yuliang, a former deputy general manager at Sanlu, used a wheelchair because he lost use of his legs during a suicide attempt, the Xinhua News Agency said.
Tian told the court she learned of consumer complaints about the problematic milk in mid-May, and led a team set up to handle the case.
But she also said she did not submit a written report on the situation to the government in Shijiazhuang, the northern Chinese city where Sanlu is based, until August 2.
It was not known how long the trials at the Shijiazhuang Intermediate People’s Court would last or when verdicts would be announced.
Seventeen others have gone on trial over past few days, Xinhua has said.
The defendants included people accused of producing melamine and marketing it to milk producers, as well as milk collectors who mixed the chemical into raw milk sold to major dairies.
But the court cases offer little consolation to some parents who felt the government breached their trust after their children died or were sickened from milk powder certified by authorities as safe.
Some families have said the planned payout by dairies was too low, and their lawyers pledged to continue attempts to sue for more compensation.
The 22 Chinese dairy companies found to have sold tainted products would contribute to the 1.1 billion yuan ($160 million) compensation fund.
Children who suffered kidney stones would get 2,000 yuan ($290) while sicker children would be paid 30,000 yuan ($4,380), according to reports in China.
The one-time cash payments total 900 million yuan ($131 million), while another 200 million yuan ($29 million) will go to a fund set up to cover bills for lingering health problems.
The fund would pay medical costs related to tainted milk until victims turn 18, China Daily said today.
Sanlu, which filed for bankruptcy and faces 1.1 billion yuan ($160 million) in debt, has leased its plants to a subsidiary of Beijing Sanyuan Foods Co. Ltd..
Production will start soon at the plants, which have been shut down since Sept. 12, shortly after news of the baby formula contamination broke.
Sanyuan emerged from the scandal with its reputation largely intact, because its products were never found to contain melamine.