The trial of Tian Wenhua, the chairwoman of the Sanlu group, is over before it has begun. The lady has pleaded guilty to the charges and confessed to knowing about the scandal at least three months before it was made known to the rest of the board. Fonterra are at their hand-wringing best again:
“Fonterra chief executive Andrew Ferrier, whose company wrote off its 43 per cent Sanlu shareholding for a loss of $201 million, said last night he had heard conflicting reports from the trial.
“He would be saddened if Tien were to be convicted, let alone executed.
“He had met her two or three times, and Fonterra had enjoyed a good relationship with her.
““She seemed to live and breathe Sanlu,” Mr Ferrier said. “She only wanted the best for Sanlu and it would be very sad if she’s found guilty of any crimes.””
Would you like a tissue, Andrew?
Chinese lawyers note that she has pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of “producing and selling defective products” which carries a penalty of life imprisonment, rather than death. Considering Tian Wenhua was a communist party member of fairly high standing, this strikes me as a trade-off deal. It is almost certain that someone very high in the party, perhaps in the politburo, told her to delay reporting the contamination. The delay makes no sense at all except as a face-saving measure to prevent the scandal surfacing before the olympics. This deal ensures that she will not have to testify in court and the scandal can gradually be put to bed.
There will, of course, be some executions – something must be done to diffuse the anger of the people. I expect the ones who actually added the melamine (even though they are probably quite low in the scheme) will all be given the death penalty.
In the pet food scandal, the director of the FDA was executed, a fairly senior party official. However, I suspect Mrs. Tian will be the only party blood “spilled”, and she is likely to be imprisoned only.
What will NOT be tackled is the underlying cause of this dreadful event – the typical communist behaviour of sweeping problems under the carpet, to avoid being held responsible for them. The problem is exacerbated by the natural chinese tendency to want to “save face” . Nothing less than democracy and public accountability will change this.