SHIJIAZHUANG, CHINA – A 39-year-old Chinese man was sentenced Monday to life in prison for lacing frozen “gyoza” dumplings with poison, causing 14 people in Japan and China to fall ill six years ago and triggering concerns over the safety of food imported from the fast-growing country.
“There is no room for leniency,” the Shijiazhuang Intermediate People’s Court said in handing down the ruling against Lu Yueting, a former temporary worker at the plant where the food was made, describing his crime as “despicable” and “premeditated.”
The ruling comes at a time of heightened bilateral tensions over territorial and historical issues, and this may explain why it took apparently longer than usual for the trial to conclude.
The poisonings occurred in January 2008 at a time when China was particularly keen, ahead of the Beijing Olympics that summer, to protect and enhance its international image.
Besides adding to worries in Japan about the safety of made-in-China food following earlier scares, the incident strained bilateral relations.
Before Lu’s arrest and indictment in 2010, Chinese authorities had deflected blame and suggested the dumplings were probably tainted in Japan, while Japanese investigators reached the opposite conclusion. The blame game evolved into a diplomatic spat as the issue became politicized.
The poisoned dumplings, produced at a Tianyang Food factory in Hebei province, were exported to Japan, where they made a 5-year-old girl seriously ill and at least nine others sick.
Four Chinese were also sickened and the food company was forced to shut the plant.
When his trial opened on July 30, Lu admitted lacing the dumplings with insecticide in 2007, and the session concluded that same day.
According to prosecutors, Lu used a syringe to inject methamidophos into the dumplings. They said he was frustrated with his wages and colleagues, but bore no grudge against Japan.
Lu said he wanted to draw management’s attention to his dissatisfaction over working conditions at the factory, where he was treated as a temporary worker for about 15 years.
The court’s decision is not final, as China has a two-tiered system of justice, but Lu is unlikely to file an appeal as he has already owned up to the crime. He could have faced capital punishment, a life sentence or imprisonment of 10 years or more.