A Chinese court sentenced two men to death and a dairy boss to life in prison Thursday for their roles in producing and selling infant formula tainted with melamine, a deadly industrial chemical added to watered-down milk in order to fool inspectors and increase profits.
The Intermediate People's Court in Shijiazhuang gave a life sentence to Tian Wenhua, 66, the former general manager and chairwoman of Sanlu Group Co., the dairy at the center of the crisis. She was the highest-ranking official charged in the food safety scandal.
Wenhua admitted she knew of problems with her company's products for months before informing authorities.
At her trial in December, Tian pleaded guilty to charges of producing and selling fake or substandard products after infant formula tainted with the chemical melamine was blamed in the deaths of at least six babies and the illnesses of nearly 300,000 others.
The court sentenced Zhang Yujun, 40, to death for running a workshop that was allegedly China's largest source of melamine the industrial chemical added to milk apparently to fool protein tests, said spokesman Wang Wei to the Associated Press.
Geng Jinping was also given the death penalty for producing and selling toxic food. A third man, Gao Junjie, was given a suspended death sentence, which is usually commuted to a life sentence.
Some of the relatives of the victims, who gathered outside the court in cold weather in northern China, said Tian got off lightly.
Investigations showed that middlemen who sold milk to dairy companies such as Sanlu were watering down raw milk, and then mixing in melamine to make it appear to have a higher protein content.