[JURIST] Chinese diary company chairwoman Tian Wenhua on Wednesday pleaded guilty [Xinhua report] to charges that she allowed her company to sell milk contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine [FDA backgrounder] even after she knew of the contamination, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency. Tian and three other executives of Shijiazhuang Sanlu Group [Research and Markets profile], Wang Yuliang, Hang Zhiqi, and Wu Jusheng, went on trial Wednesday for their roles in the contamination that sickened almost 300,000 children and killed at least six. Prosecutors in the case alleged that Sanlu Group received reports of possible contamination as early as December 2007, and that company executives knew about the contamination by May 2008. They also said that despite this knowledge, the company waited until August 2008 to report the problem to government officials, by which time the melamine content of some products had increased to 100 times the levels originally detected. The chemical was reportedly introduced into the milk products as part of mixture designed to increase their protein content. The date for a verdict on the other three defendants has not been set, and all four could face either life in prison or the death penalty [China Daily report] if convicted.
To date, more than 17 defendants have faced criminal charges in connection with the contamination. The trial of four other suspects began on Monday, and the trial of another six [JURIST reports] began last week. On Tuesday, it was announced [JURIST report] that Sanlu Group and 21 other dairy companies involved in the contamination were expected to pay a total of $160 million for healthcare expenses and compensation to the families of injured children. News of possible milk powder contamination [JURIST news archive] by the chemical melamine first broke in September [Guardian report], following the death of an infant and reports that at least 50 other infants had fallen ill after consuming baby formula, leading to massive recalls [BBC report] of both liquid milk products and milk powders.