A Chinese court handed down the sentences for three of the people involved in the contaminated milk scandal, and it wasn’t pretty. Zhang Yujun, the head of a workshop that was allegedly China’s largest source of melamine, and Geng Jiping, a melamine powder buyer and reseller, were both given the death penalty.
Tian Wenhua, former GM and head of Sanlu, the dairy at the center of the scandal, was given a life sentence. She was the highest-ranking official charged in the debacle. Three other ex-Sanlu executives were given between five and 15 years in prison.
The sentences were tough and there’s no doubt the people who received them got what was coming to them, but is it enough to rebuild consumer confidence or calm the thousands of parents affected by poisoned milk powder?
The New York Times doesn’t think so:
Parents of some victims of the scandal protested Thursday afternoon outside the courthouse in the northern Chinese city of Shijiazhuang, where Sanlu is headquartered, saying they were dissatisfied with the verdict.
“I feel sorry for them, but they are just scapegoats,” said Liu Donglin, 28, who says his 21-month old son suffered from kidney stones after drinking tainted milk powder. “The ones who should take the responsibility are the government, like the quality supervision bureau and the Health Ministry. I spent nearly $3,000 taking care of my son and the government only compensated me with $300.”
Some lawyers and victims of the scandal have accused Beijing of failing to properly regulate the nation’s dairy industry and some believe the government covered up the scandal before the Beijing Olympics last August, disclosing the news in September.
Former Sanlu officials acknowledged in testimony last month that they knew there were complaints and serious problems with their dairy products as early as May of last year.
But the government has placed the blame on a group of unscrupulous dairy company executives, farmers and middlemen who prosecutors say intentionally sold goods spiked with melamine to save money and increase profits. Melamine, which is used to produce plastics and fertilizer, was often added as a cheap filler or replacement for protein powder.
Ultimately, the government’s line is that greedy individuals ruined a healthy, booming and otherwise completely clean business. But if it turns out that the whole way of doing business here is rotten, what then?
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