New Zealand dairy accepts China milk scandal verdicts
WELLINGTON, N.Z. - New Zealand dairy Fonterra said Saturday it accepts a Chinese court's guilty verdicts in the contaminated milk scandal but does not condone death sentences handed down to two executives at China's Sanlu dairy.
Fonterra -- which owned 43 per cent of the Sanlu venture -- was responsible for alerting Chinese authorities to the tainted milk scandal in August and by December had written off its $200-million investment in the Chinese dairy group.
A Chinese court sentenced to death cattle farmer Zhang Yujun and milk trader Geng Jinping for their parts in the scandal that killed at least six babies and left nearly 300,000 infants sickened, after the industrial chemical melamine was added to milk to increase its protein levels.
A third man, Gao Junjie, was given a death sentence for endangering public safety but it was suspended for two years and may be commuted to life in prison.
The chairwoman of Tian Wenhua will also spend the rest of her life behind bars as well as being fined $2.9 million.
"We accept the court's findings but Fonterra supports the New Zealand government's position on the death penalty," said Fonterra chief executive Andrew Ferrier.
"Fonterra deeply regrets the harm and pain this tragedy has caused so many Chinese families."
Prime Minister John Key said Friday that New Zealand "does not condone the death sentence but we respect their right to take a very serious attitude to what was an extremely serious scandal."
Sanlu had been put into receivership by Chinese authorities who have given the receiver six months to conclude the sale of Sanlu's assets.
Shijiazhuang-based Sanlu Group Co. in Hebei province was the first Chinese milk company to confirm melamine contamination in its infant milk formula products.
More than 30 Chinese dairy companies have since been implicated in the tainted milk scandal.
Fonterra, which controls more than 95 per cent of New Zealand's milk supply, is the country's largest multinational business, its second-biggest foreign currency-earner and accounts for more than 24 per cent of the country's exports.