Bribed China Food and Drug head gets death penalty

Times:

The man responsible for overseeing food and drugs for China’s 1.3 billion people was sentenced to death yesterday for corruption. Zheng Xiaoyu was convicted of taking hundreds of thousands of pounds in bribes to approve unsafe medicines that caused the deaths of dozens of patients.

Zheng appeared haggard and shocked when court security officers, standing on either side of him, clapped handcuffs on to his wrists as the judge at the Beijing City No 1 Intermediate People’s Court announced a verdict and sentence, in a hearing shown on national television.

The former head of the state Food and Drug Administration was convicted of taking bribes and other gifts with a value of £425,000. He can appeal but experts said that the courts were unlikely to commute his sentence, given the high profile of his case.

His punishment is severe — even for China, where more people are executed each year than in the rest of the world put together — because of the seriousness of his crime, state media said. The bribes he accepted allowed eight companies to circumvent drug approval standards. In one instance, an antibiotic approved by his agency killed at least ten patients last year before it was taken off the market.

Zheng, 62, is likely to be executed by lethal injection within weeks. If he does not appeal, the sentence could be carried out much sooner.

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Zheng was sentenced on the same day that China announced its first regulation on the recall of food as part of measures to improve nutritional safety in a country where lax controls have catapulted the issue to the top of the national agenda. The move reflects growing domestic and international alarm over shoddy and unsafe Chinese goods, ranging from pet-food ingredients to toothpaste mixed with industrial chemicals and eggs tainted with dangerous dyes.

Given Zheng’s powerful position, a vast range of China’s quality-control systems have been called into question because of approvals while he was in office. An official with 23 years’ experience in pharmaceuticals, he ran the drug administration from its creation in 1998 until he was dismissed in 2005. His power increased significantly in 2002 when the Government required all drugs to be approved by the agency.

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One of the worst cases during his tenure was in 2004, when at least 13 babies died of malnutrition in Anhui province after being fed fake milk powder with no nutritional value.

China’s dismal safety record has attracted international attention in recent weeks. The US halted all toothpaste imports after reports that some products sold in Australia, Panama and the Dominican Republic contained diethylene glycol, a chemical commonly used in antifreeze and brake fluid.

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The sentence seems appropriate. This is a betrayal of trust on a grand scale that has not only killed dozens of people, but has put all Chinese food and drugs under suspicion that will take years to overcome. It also explains many of the idiotic products distributed by Chinese companies. How ignorant do you have to be to not think tainted products will not impact your future business?

The NY Times story on the tainted products says that more than 100 were killed in Panama alone with the tainted toothpaste.

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