DoJ: US Importer Conspired to Bypass Inspection of Tainted Chinese Wheat Gluten
According to Federal indictments handed down yesterday, the president of ChemNutra, a Las Vegas-based importer of Chinese food products, conspired to bypass the mandatory Chinese inspection of several hundred tons of wheat gluten that it imported into the United States from November 2006 to February 2007. The imported Chinese wheat gluten, which ChemNutra subsequently shipped to various pet-food manufacturers throughout North America, was later identified by the FDA to contain melamine, an ersatz-protein additive. Melamine-laced wheat gluten in pet food is believed to have contributed to the illnesses and deaths of an unknown number of pets in 2007.
The two indictments, which were described in a press release yesterday by the US Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, John F. Wood, named defendents Sally Qing Miller, corporate president of ChemNutra, her husband, Stephen S. Miller, CEO of ChemNutra, as well as Suzhou Textiles (SSC), a Chinese broker, and Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co (XAC), the manufacturer of the melamine-spiked wheat gluten. Also indicted were Chinese nationals Zhen Hao Chen, president of SSC, and Mao Linzhun, owner and manager of XAC, both of whom are believed to reside in China.
Detailed in one indictment is a series of e-mails, beginning in April 2006, between Ms. Miller and the Chinese broker SSC, in which references to two product-descriptive coding numbers on the shipped wheat gluten were made. Only one of these coding numbers would initiate the mandatory inspection of wheat gluten before leaving China, while the other would bypass inspection. It is suggested in the indictment that Ms. Miller knew which coding number would initiate the required Chinese inspection and conspired with SSC, who intentionally mislabeled the exported wheat gluten with the coding number that averted Chinese inspection. Ms. Miller then facilitated US importation of the wheat gluten by providing the correct coding number to an unnamed domestic broker who received the shipments. More specifically, it is indicated in the indictment that, in November 2006, Ms. Miller e-mailed to the domestic broker a certificate of origin for the wheat gluten, which had been prepared by a Chinese company other than SSC for wheat gluten that had been manufactured by a company other than XAC. This certificate of origin contained the coding number that would have mandated Chinese inspection.
Also according to the indictments, ChemNutra sold and shipped the melamine-tainted Chinese wheat gluten to pet-food manufacturers with a "certificate of analysis" indicating that the product was at least 75% wheat gluten, but ChemNutra did not inform the purchasers that the wheat gluten had bypassed inspection or was imported with the use of incorrect coding numbers. In a statement provided to the New York Times, ChemNutra clarified that "the government had not accused the Millers of knowing that there was melamine in the wheat gluten."