Trial to start Tues. of suspect in China-Japan tainted dumplings case

Chinese judicial authorities will hold the first trial hearing Tuesday of a man accused of lacing "gyoza" dumplings with a toxic chemical that led to high-profile food poisoning cases in Japan about five years ago, the Japanese Embassy in Beijing said Friday.

The cases sparked concern among Japanese consumers over the safety of food products imported from China.

The fiasco broke out after 10 people of three families in Japan's Chiba and Hyogo prefectures showed symptoms of poisoning after eating frozen dumplings produced by a factory of Tianyang Food in Shijiazhuang in Hebei Province between December 2007 and January 2008.

Japanese investigations showed the dumplings were contaminated with a pesticide called methamidophos.

The 39-year-old Chinese defendant, Lu Yueting, a former temporary employee of the food company, was indicted in August 2010.

The embassy was notified of the launch of the trial by local judicial authorities at a time when Japan and China are embroiled in a fierce dispute over the sovereignty of a group of islands in the East China Sea.

Bilateral relations have sunk to their lowest point in years since the Japanese government's purchase in September 2012 of three of the five main islands in the Senkaku group from their Japanese owner. The islands are called Diaoyu in China.

A ruling on Lu, expected in the not-so-distant future, is seen as delicate as already frayed relations between the two countries could worsen depending on the outcome.

"This may be an unexpected (political) curveball from China," a source close to bilateral relations said, noting the launch of the trial after many years may be aimed at easing tensions with Japan, where Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling coalition earlier this month scored a comfortable win in the upper house election, paving the way for it to control both chambers of parliament.

If he faces a heavy sentence, there is a possibility anti-Japan sentiment could renew in China, or otherwise.

In a rare move, Chinese judicial authorities are planning to allow some Japanese officials and reporters to observe the first hearing, according to an embassy official.

After the discovery of the food-poisoning cases, investigations ran into difficulties with Japan and China blaming each other for the problem and arguing the dumplings might have been laced with the hazardous substance on either side.

But in March 2010, China announced the detention of Lu, who had been employed by the food company since 1993, for allegedly injecting the pesticide into the frozen dumplings.

The defendant is suspected of stealing the pesticide kept by cleaning staff at the factory and injecting it into the dumplings with a syringe on three occasions between October and December 2007 over frustration that his wife, who was also working at the factory, did not receive a bonus payment when she took maternity leave.