Tainted Chinese Dairy Sold At Auction

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The contaminated milk scandal in China has taken a new twist. The dairy at the center of the case went up for auction. That raises the question: What do the families of the victims do now?

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

In China, the contaminated milk scandal has taken a new twist. The dairy company at the center of the case went on the auction block today. So legally it no longer exists. Which raises the question: Whom do the families of victims sue now? NPR's Louisa Lim reports from Shanghai.

LOUISA LIM: Today, the Sanlu dairy was auctioned off for $19 million to another Chinese milk producer, Sanyuan. This comes after a senior official promised that courts will accept civil claims from families of the victims. The question is whether that will change anything.

Ninety-five percent of the 300,000 victims have already accepted a government-sanctioned compensation plan. But around 300 families now have the go-ahead to file civil claims. Their representative is Chou Lin Hai(ph), the father of a three-year-old who fell sick. He says they hold out a little hope of success.

Mr. ZHAOLIN HAI (Families' Representative) (Through translator): The Sanlu dairy is now finished, so the lawsuit process has been given the green light. We think this is unreasonable. Even if we could sue Sanlu, where could we file the lawsuit? So we don't feel hopeful. We feel we have been cheated.

LIM: This case is politically sensitive because of the very large number of victims, and there're signs of difficulties ahead. One lawyer who filed the lawsuit in the northern city of Qingdao was told by the court that it would guide him towards accepting the existing compensation plan. Another lawyer, Xu Zhiyong(ph), is helping the victims. He's critical of the courts.

Mr. XU ZHIYONG (Lawyer) (Through translator): Our biggest difficult is that the courts do not operate according to the law.

LIM: The victims' families tried to attend the auction in the city of Shu Jajwang(ph), but they say when they arrived they were surrounded by plainclothes policemen and manhandled. All they want to do is force use to leave, says Zhaolin Hai. There is no justice here.

Louisa Lim, NPR News, Shanghai.

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