Sanlu Group

Mayor sacked and former Sanlu chief held

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 September, 2008, 12:00am


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More heads rolled yesterday over tainted milk powder, as another official was fired and authorities detained the sacked chairwoman of Sanlu Group, the milk company at the centre of the widening storm.

Ji Chuntang , the mayor and deputy party chief of Shijiazhuang , Hebei province , where Sanlu is based, was sacked after the city government failed to react to a notification of the contamination by Sanlu's New Zealand stakeholder.

'The officials didn't realise [the graveness of the situation], and they have to be held accountable for that,' Xinhua quoted Hebei Vice-Governor Yang Chongyong as saying yesterday.

Fonterra, a New Zealand company that holds a 43 per cent stake in Sanlu, said it approached the city government early last month about the tainted milk-powder products. The municipal officials neither took any action on the notification nor reported the matter to the Hebei provincial government, Mr Yang said.

Meanwhile, Tian Wenhua , who was removed from all her Sanlu posts - chairwoman, general manager and party secretary - on Tuesday, was detained under laws governing the production and sale of harmful food products, Xinhua said.

The report did not say whether Ms Tian had been formally arrested.

Hebei province yesterday announced 638 new cases of sick infants diagnosed with kidney stones, Xinhua said.

Nationwide, more than 6,000 babies had fallen ill by yesterday and three had died after drinking powdered milk with melamine, a chemical used in plastics.

The scandal had centred on Sanlu until Tuesday, when further testing - following a huge public outcry - found that another 21 companies had produced baby milk formulas containing melamine.

Four officials in Shijiazhuang have already been sacked - including vice-mayor Zhang Fawang , whose portfolio was agriculture - and three in charge of the city's animal and aquatic products, food and drug security, and quality inspection.

The provincial public-security authorities by yesterday also formally arrested six and detained 22 involved in the case. Some were said to have confessed to adding melamine to milk before selling it to Sanlu to make its protein content appear higher as far back as April 2005.