3 arrested in crackdown on tainted milk products

Updated: 2010-02-03 17:33
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XI'AN: Three people have been arrested in China in a fresh crackdown on melamine-tainted milk products, police said Wednesday.

Zhang Wenxue, general manager of the Lekang Dairy Co. Ltd. in Weinan City, in the northwestern Shaanxi Province, Zhu Shuming, a vice general manger of the company and a workshop director, and Ma Shuanglin, a milk powder dealer in Weinan's Linwei District, were charged with manufacturing and selling food that does not meet hygiene standards, said Xu Qiang, deputy director of the Shaanxi Provincial Public Security Department.

Another vice general manger of the company, Tong Tianhu, had posted bail because of a serious heart disease, and would face the same charges, Xu said at a press conference.

Lekang is one of three companies blacklisted by the Ministry of Health for manufacturing and selling milk products laced with melamine, an industrial compound that can give a false positive on protein tests and cause kidney stones.

An initial investigation showed that Ma sold a total of 10 tonnes of melamine-tainted milk powder to the Lekang company in September and October in 2009, Xu said.

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Without having the milk power undergone melamine and quality checks, Zhang ordered Zhu to mix it into Lekang's own to manufacture a total of 32.5 tonnes of milk powder. Lekang then sold 28 tonnes to a food company in southern Guangdong Province, Xu said.

"The remaining 4.5 tonnes held by Lekang were destroyed by quality inspection authorities in Weinan on January 22 this year," he said.

The food company in Guangdong then sold the 28 tonnes milk powder to another two companies in Guangdong and eastern Fujian Province. Part of the tainted milk power had been used to produce candies, Xu said.

About 16.5 tonnes of the tainted milk powder had been retrieved and destroyed by local authorities, and the candy products that had been sold are being recalled and the unsold had been sealed off, he said.

Police investigation shows that Ma actually bought a total of 20 tonnes of melamine-tainted milk powder from April to August in 2008 from the Lihua Dairy Company in Shaanxi's Dali County.

"Of the remaining 10 tonnes, Ma sold 3.44 tonnes at retail from June to August in 2008, and the rest were found and destroyed on January 15, 2009," Xu said, suggesting the 3.44 tonnes might not be retrieved.

"The Lihua company had failed to record the milk powder sales to Ma due to its incomplete accounts," Xu said.

Zhang, Zhu and Ma were detained by police in late January this year, and they were formally arrested on Tuesday, Xu said, adding the case is being further investigated.

"The disclosure of the case demonstrates the government's resolve to safeguard people's health and crack down on crimes related to food safety," he said.

On February 1, China's food safety authorities launched a 10-day crackdown on tainted milk products across the country, which were found to have re-emerged in several provinces. But no deaths have been reported.

In eastern Shandong Province, the provincial government ordered municipal and county authorities to submit daily reports about the probes of melamine-tainted milk products.

In 2008, at least six infants died after consuming melamine-contaminated milk products and 300,000 children across the country were sickened.

In November last year, two people were executed for their role in the scandal, which also resulted in the bankruptcy of state-owned dairy producer Sanlu.