The Intermediate People's Court of Jiaozuo, in Henan province, found the defendants guilty of "endangering public security by using dangerous means".
Liu Xiang, a clenbuterol producer based in Hubei province, received a death sentence with a two-year reprieve. Of the three other principal offenders, Xi Zhongjie was sentenced to life in prison, Xiao Bing to 15 years and Chen Yuwei to 14 years. And Liu's accomplice, his wife Liu Honglin, was sentenced to nine years for purchasing raw materials he used in making clenbuterol.
The verdict said the five suspects produced and sold lean meat powder even though they knew it is harmful and that they distributed the substance in Henan, Shandong and Jiangsu provinces and five other provincial regions.
The court heard that Liu Xiang and Xi were responsible for producing and selling more than 2,700 kilograms of clenbuterol, which brought them a profit of 2.5 million yuan ($387,000); that Chen Yuwei, who was based in Zhengzhou, capital of Henan province, was responsible for selling more than 600 kilograms of clenbuterol, raking in a profit of 700,000 yuan; and that Xiao Bing, based in Luoyang, also in Henan, sold 1,300 kilograms of the substance, gaining a profit of more than 600,000 yuan.
In their own defense, the accused argued that they had not intended to "endanger public security" and that their acts had not had direct and irreversible consequences. They said they should face the lesser charge of conducting illegal business activities.
All of the defendants, except the dealer Chen Yuwei, have decided to appeal the verdicts to a higher court.