Two Chinese went on trial on Friday accused of making and selling the chemical at the center of a tainted milk scandal blamed for killing six children and sickening nearly 300,000 others.
Police say Zhang Yujun (張玉軍) and Zhang Yanzhang (張彥章) illegally manufactured and sold a “protein powder” composed mainly of melamine and malt dextrin, the Xinhua news agency reported. The powder was added to raw milk to make it appear high in protein content.
An official at the publicity office of the Hebei Supreme Court confirmed that the trial started on Friday at the Shijiazhuang Intermediate People’s Court. He refused to give his name or other details.
State television showed both men in court in handcuffs with their heads bowed while being questioned by three judges.
Sanlu Group Co, the main company in the scandal, is based in Shijiazhuang. The company confirmed earlier this week that it was bankrupt.
Police say they found an illegal workshop run by the two Zhangs on the outskirts of Jinan in Shandong Province in eastern China, Xinhua reported. Police say it made 600 tonnes of the fake protein powder from last September to this October and was the largest source of melamine in the country.
Xinhua reported on Thursday that Sanlu has 1.1 billion yuan (US$160 million) of net debt and that a branch of the Shijiazhuang City Commercial Bank was the creditor that applied to a court to have Sanlu declared bankrupt.
It said the intermediate court in Shijiazhuang had accepted the filing. Xinhua said Sanlu owes a creditor 902 million yuan it borrowed earlier this month to pay for the medical treatment of children sickened after drinking the company’s infant formula, and for compensation of the babies’ families.
A spokesman for the Shijiazhuang city government said the money was given to the China Dairy Industry Association for medical care and compensation fees for victims, a transcript of a news conference on Thursday said.
A woman who answered the telephone on Friday at the association refused to answer any questions.
The issue of compensation for the families of the children sickened or killed has become a sensitive one, with courts so far not accepting any lawsuits filed by the families.
The Legal Daily newspaper reported that Tian Wenhua (田文華), Sanlu’s chairwoman and general manager, would go on trial on Wednesday in Shijiazhuang for “selling fake and shoddy products.”
Sanlu, like a number of major Chinese dairies, had been exempt from government inspections because it was deemed to have superior quality controls — until high levels of the industrial chemical melamine were found in its baby formula and other products in September. Several other dairies were also found to have sold tainted goods.
Melamine poses little danger in small amounts but larger doses can cause kidney stones and renal failure.