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Four in court over China milk scandal

Four people go on trial in connection with China's tainted milk scandal as steps are taken to compensate parents of affected children.

BEIJING // Four people went on trial today in connection with China's tainted milk scandal, after steps to compensate the families of hundreds of thousands of children harmed by contaminated infant formula were announced. Hearings were held in the northern city of Shijiazhuang, where the company at the heart of the scandal - Sanlu Group Co - is headquartered, according to state broadcaster CCTV and the Xinhua News Agency.

The first trials in the case began for six men on Friday. All 10 people on trial have been charged with producing and selling melamine. The industrial chemical was added to raw milk because - like protein - it is high in nitrogen and can make protein levels appear higher. Sanlu's chairwoman and general manager, Tian Wenhua, is scheduled to go before a Shijiazhuang court on Wednesday. At least six babies died and 294,000 other children suffered kidney and urinary problems from drinking the baby formula made from the contaminated milk.

Only two of the four men in the latest trial - Gao Junjie and Xue Jianzhong - were identified. The two unidentified men were being tried separately, CCTV said. A CCTV report said that in November 2007, the four began to produce a mixture of melamine and malt dextrin, a food additive made from starch, that they marketed to milk producers. They produced 200 tons of the additive through August 2008 and sold 110 tons to milk producers - including Sanlu - for a total of Ұ1.23 million (Dh661, 000), CCTV said.

The trials come amid moves by authorities to end a national disgrace that highlighted widespread problems with food safety and corporate and governmental malfeasance. On Saturday, China's Dairy Industry Association said 22 dairy producers would make a one-time cash payment to families of victims and establish a fund to cover medical bills for future health problems. Lawyers say they understand most children who suffered kidney stones from the tainted milk would get 2,000 yuan, while sicker children would be paid 30,000 yuan. Chinese courts have rejected all claims filed by the victims' families, including a lawsuit filed this month by lawyers representing 63 defendants that sought nearly 14 million yuan in compensation from Sanlu. The state-owned company has been declared bankrupt according to New Zealand's Fonterra Group, which owns a 43 per cent stake in Sanlu.

* AP

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