SHIJIAZHUANG, Jan. 22 (Xinhua) -- Two men were sentenced to death Thursday for their roles in the melamine contamination of milk that left at least six Chinese infants dead and almost 300,000 ill.
The pair, along with the former board chairwoman of dairy firm Sanlu Group, Tian Wenhua, who was jailed for life, were among 21 people sentenced at the Shijiazhuang Intermediate People's Court and four other courts in the counties including Wuji.
Zhang Yujun, who produced 770 tons of melamine-laced "protein powder" and sold more than 600 tons to others, and Geng Jinping, who sold more than 900 tons of milk tainted by 434 kg of protein powder to Sanlu, both face execution.
Zhang was convicted of endangering public safety, while Geng was convicted of manufacturing and selling toxic food.
One man, Gao Junjie, got a suspended death sentence for endangering public safety. A suspended death sentence usually means life imprisonment with good behavior. Protein powder dealers Zhang Yanzhang and Xue Jianzhong were jailed for life under the crime of endangering public safety. The remaining 15 defendants were sentenced 2-15 years in prison.
It is not known whether any of the 21 plan to appeal.
A cameraman shoots the entrance of the Shijiazhuang Municipal Intermediate People's Court in Shijiazhuang, capital of north China's Hebei Province, Jan. 22, 2009. (Xinhua/Wang Min)
Tian Wenhua, who was convicted of manufacturing and selling fake or substandard products, was also fined 24.7 million yuan (3.6 million U.S. dollars). Three other former Sanlu executives received sentences of 5 to 15 years in jail.
The Sanlu Group, whose bankruptcy petition was accepted by the Shijiazhuang Intermediate People's Court last month, was fined 49.37 million yuan.
The management of Sanlu decided to continue producing baby milk powder containing melamine after the Hebei Provincial Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau confirmed on Aug. 1 last year that samples sent by the company were contaminated.
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.
Wei Yantong, legal counsel for Sanlu Group, said after the sentencing that the group had not decided whether to appeal.
Journalists gather at the entrance of the Shijiazhuang Municipal Intermediate People's Court in Shijiazhuang, capital of north China's Hebei Province, Jan. 22, 2009. (Xinhua/Wang Min)
Many relatives of victims of the contamination and dairy farmers waited outside the court Thursday for the sentences.
Zhao Lianhai, a father from Beijing, said, "I feel sorry for the families of the defendants who were sentenced to death or life in prison. But the people who broke the law and harmed children must be dealt with strictly."
Zheng Shuzhen, a grandmother from the central Henan Province, said she came to Shijiazhuang to learn as early as possible how the defendants were punished.
"Sanlu was a well-known brand and it was affordable. How could I have imagined that my grand-daughter would die after drinking Sanlu milk powder?" said Zheng in tears.
Chinese police have arrested another 39 people in connection with the scandal, said Zhang Deli, chief procurator of the Hebei Provincial People's Procuratorate. But it is unclear when they would go on trial.
The Ministry of Health has put the number of infants who died after drinking melamine contaminated milk products at six. Another296,000 infants suffered kidney stones and other urinary problems.