SHIJIAZHUANG, Jan. 20 (Xinhua) -- A Chinese court is set to sentence 21 defendants implicated in a tainted milk powder scandal on Thursday, about three weeks after trials late last month, a court spokesman said Tuesday.
The 21 defendants included four former senior executives of the Shijiazhuang-based Sanlu Group, the dairy at the center of the scandal, on charges of manufacturing and selling fake or substandard products, said a spokesman with the Hebei Provincial Higher People's Court.
Also set for sentencing are 17 others who have been found to produce, add melamine-laced "protein powder" to milk or sell the tainted milk to Sanlu or other dairies, the spokesman said.
Among them, six were accused of endangering public security by dangerous means, and 11 others were charged with manufacturing and selling toxic food, he said.
The sentences would be announced at the Shijiazhuang Municipal Intermediate People's Court Thursday afternoon, he added.
No further details were provided.
The 21 defendants went on trial between Dec. 26 and 31 at the Shijiazhuang court.
The four executives included Tian Wenhua, Sanlu's former board chairwoman and general manager, two former deputy general managers Wang Yuliang and Hang Zhiqi, and a former executive in charge of the company's milk procurement division, Wu Jusheng. They were arrested on Sept. 26 and stood trial on Dec. 31.
Tian, 66, pleaded guilty to the charges against her at the trial on Dec. 31 that lasted about 14 hours. But the pleas for the other defendants were not known.
Liu Xinwei, Tian's lawyer, was quoted by the Beijing News on Tuesday as saying that Tian might not be sentenced to death.
"According to the criminal law, there is no capital punishment for the crime of manufacturing and selling fake or substandard products. Therefore, the most severe penalty for her would be life imprisonment," Liu said.
"For now, it's hard to say whether she would lodge an appeal," Liu said.
From Aug. 2 to Sept. 12 last year, Sanlu Group produced 904 tons of melamine-tainted baby formula powder and sold 813 tons of the tainted products, making 47.5 million yuan (6.9 million U.S. dollars).
The Ministry of Health said it was likely the tainted milk scandal with Sanlu Group at its center killed at least six babies. Another 294,000 infants suffered kidney stones and other urinary problems.
Sanlu Group, partly owned by New Zealand dairy product giant Fonterra, stopped production on Sept. 12. A bankruptcy petition for Sanlu has been filed in the face of a 1.1 billion yuan debt.
On Dec. 19, the group borrowed 902 million yuan to pay the medical fees of children sickened by its melamine-tainted baby formula and to compensate the victims.