Police have confiscated more than 77 million drug capsules made from toxic industrial gelatin and shut down 80 illegal production lines across the country, the Ministry of Public Security said yesterday.
Nine suspects in seven cases have been arrested and 45 others believed to have been involved in the production of medicine capsules containing excessive levels of chromium have been detained.
"The ministry has organized police forces in Zhejiang, Hebei and Jiangxi provinces to work jointly with the State Food and Drug Administration to crack the gelatin cases soon," it said.
A government official and two employees at the Hebei Xueyang Glair Gelatin Factory were held over the weekend in connection with a fire at a gelatin plant, the ministry said.
Song Jiangxin, former chairman of the National People's Congress of Wangji Village in Hebei's Fucheng County and Song Xunjie, sales manager of the Xueyang Glair factory, are said to have encouraged Liu Aiguo, who worked at the plant, to start a fire to destroy evidence following a claim on April 15 by China Central Television that the plant provided industrial gelatin to a capsule producer in Zhejiang Province.
Song Haixin, legal representative of the factory and brother of Song Jiangxin, was also said to have been involved in the plot, Xinhua news agency said.
"Song Jiangxin hoped that this fire would destroy computers, account books and files in the plant, and destroy any connections to the scandal," the Hebei public security department said.
The Xinhua report said that Liu initially escaped by using the back gate of the plant before he was apprehended.
Song Jianxin and Song Xunjie have been detained while Liu has been arrested on suspicion of arson.
The factory was established in 2004 with registered capital of 2.1 million yuan (US$332,592), and had an annual production capacity of 280 tons, employing 32 workers.
Its products, mainly industrial gelatin, were sold to other factories in Beijing, Changzhou and Xiamen cities, as well as buyers in Zhejiang, Xinhua said.
The State Food and Drug Administration confirmed at the weekend that it had sent more inspection teams to investigate the scandal and establish who is responsible.
Inspection teams from several departments, including the police, health authorities and supervision agencies, have been sent to Zhejiang, Hebei and Jiangxi provinces to supervise the investigation, the drug administration body said.
Supervision agencies have begun investigations into officials who may have neglected their duties, it added.
The administration promised its findings would be made public.
The scandal came to light after the report broadcast on China Central Television which claimed that several companies were using industrial gelatin to make medicine capsules.