SHIJIAZHUANG -- Sixty suspects have been formally arrested over the melamine-tainted Sanlu milk powder that caused urinary problems such as kidney stones in thousands of babies in China last year.
"Twenty-one of them went on trial between December 26 and 31, including four executives of Sanlu Group," said Zhang Deli, chief procurator of the Hebei Provincial People's Procuratorate.
"The court will announce the verdicts soon," Zhang told the ongoing annual session of the Hebei Provincial People's Congress.
Tian Wenhua, Sanlu's former board chairwoman and general manager, stood trial in the provincial capital Shijiazhuang on December 31, alongside the group's former deputy general managers Wang Yuliang and Hang Zhiqi, and Wu Jusheng, a former executive in charge of the firm's milk source division. The four were arrested on September 26.
Prior to these four, 17 people were on trial on charges of producing, adding melamine-laced "protein powder" to milk or selling the tainted milk to Sanlu or other dairies.
From August 2 to September 12, Sanlu Group produced 904 tonnes of melamine-tainted baby formula powder and sold 813 tonnes of the tainted products, making 47.5 million yuan ($6.9 million ).
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 September 12. A bankruptcy petition for Sanlu has been filed in the face of a 1.1 billion yuan debt.
On December 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.
In his report to the provincial legislature, Zhang Deli said the procuratorate system would "live up to its obligation, handle the milk scandal properly, and crack down on all crimes that disrupt market order and economic development".
He said such crimes included frauds, tax evasion, illegal fund-raising, production and sales of counterfeit goods and commercial bribes.
Last year, 1,173 suspects in Hebei Province were arrested over these charges, he said.
Meanwhile, 1,244 government employees were investigated on corruption accusations.
The province's total arrests last year were put at 43,000.