Fake salt bust hints at bribery in sector

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When Chongqing police busted a gang that processed and resold nearly 800 tons of illegal edible salt in a year, it only hinted toward the corruption that plagues the domestic salt industry functioning in an imperfect legal system, officials have said.


Of the 10 accused who stood trial in the southwest municipality on Nov 5, Xu Shouhua and Tan Zhengbing, the prime suspects, were sentenced to 13 and 12 years behind bars.

The court, which found the duo guilty of illegal operations, also fined the two 400,000 yuan ($59,000) and 150,000 yuan, respectively. The court is yet to deliver its verdict on the remaining accused in the case, which is arguably one of the largest cases of fake edible salt exposed in the country.

Police tracked down about 788.85 tons of the fake salt the gang sold since 2007.

Small packages of fake edible salt for household consumption appeared on the shelves in 15 districts and counties in Chongqing in 2007.

Police nabbed Xu at his illegal salt plant last November.

They divided the industrial salt into small packages in Chongqing, and then sold them to local wholesalers. The packages were sophisticatedly counterfeited and updated regularly, making it hard for them to be distinguished from authentic products, investigations showed.

In China, edible salt must be iodized, besides conforming to other relevant national standards. Industrial salt, which does not contain iodine, can affect people's mental and physical development, and also impairs reproductive function.

However, no cases of poisoning from the fake edible salt have been reported yet.

China implements a government monopoly on the edible salt sector with an aim to ensure the compulsory national strategy of iodizing the product to protect residents' health.

Only a few government authorized salt companies can produce and sell edible salt, according to the Edible Salt Monopoly Regulation, which was issued in 1996.

State broadcaster CCTV quoted Chen Yigen, director of the Chongqing salt administration bureau, as saying: "Deep-rooted causes behind the rampant illegal activities are inadequate supervision and an imperfect legal system."

The country has about 3,000 salt producing companies that produce 68 million tons of crude salt annually, of which only 8 million tons is processed into edible salt. All the rest is used as industrial salt.

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