The former boss of the dairy company at the center of China's contaminated milk scandal and 20 other people awaited sentencing Thursday for the production and sale of melamine-tainted products.
Tian Wenhua, who was general manager and chairwoman of Sanlu Group Co., has 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.
Officials at the Intermediate People's Court in Shijiazhuang, where the company is based, said that the sentences would be announced Thursday afternoon.
State media had reported earlier that Tian, 66, could face the death penalty but her lawyer Liu Xinwei was quoted earlier this week in the Beijing News as saying that she might not be sentenced to death.
"According to the criminal law, there is no capital punishment for the crime of manufacturing and selling fake or substandard products. Therefore, the most severe penalty for her would be life imprisonment," Liu said.
During her trial on Dec. 31, Tian admitted that she knew of problems with her company's products for months before informing authorities. The scandal was exposed in September. She is the highest profile official charged in a food safety crisis widely seen as a national disgrace, highlighting corporate and official shortcomings and corruption.
The defendants include three other former senior executives of Sanlu as well as 17 other people who were charged with producing, adding or selling melamine-tainted milk to dairy companies, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
Among them, six were accused of endangering public security by dangerous means, and 11 others were charged with manufacturing and selling toxic food, it said.
Investigations showed that middlemen who sold milk to dairy companies were watering down raw milk, then mixing in nitrogen-rich melamine to fool quality tests for protein content. Normally used to make plastics and fertilizer, melamine can cause kidney stones and kidney failure when ingested in large amounts. The discovery of melamine in dairy exports such as chocolate and yogurt triggered a slew of product recalls overseas.
Sanlu, along with the other 21 dairy companies implicated, have proposed a 1.1 billion yuan ($160 million) compensation plan, but more than 200 families have filed suit demanding higher compensation and long-term treatment for their babies.