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Friday, May 19, 2017, 16:13
Wrongfully jailed father presses for compensation
By Cao Yin
Friday, May 19, 2017, 16:13 By Cao Yin

Guo Li, who was recently exonerated of blackmail after serving five years in prison, displays a drawing depicting him and his daughter. He said she was his motivation to carry on during his time in jail. (Zou Hong / China Daily)

Guo Li stared across the table, his calm exterior momentarily giving way to anger. "My fight is not over yet," he said, shortly after a court overturned his 2010 conviction for attempting toextort the manufacturer of a tainted milk powder that poisoned his daughter.

He said the verdict on April 7 by the Guangdong High People's Court - which came after Guohad served five years in prison, his full sentence - was a vindication of his efforts to getcompensation for his family.

"It proves that what I've done for my daughter is legal," he said.

Guo was speaking in mid-April in the same teahouse in downtown Beijing where he first metwith representatives from Guangdong Yashili Group, the company that accused him ofblackmail, to discuss compensation after his daughter became ill in 2008 from drinkingformula made from the company's tainted Scient milk powder.

After reading a government warning that several domestic brands of baby formula and milkpowder had been contaminated with melamine, a toxic chemical that could lead to falseprotein readings in quality tests, Guo took his daughter, age 2 at the time, to the hospital for acheckup.

She was found to have mild symptoms of kidney stones, and since then "she has grownslower than average, developed an eating disorder and is now quick to anger", according toher father.

He also sent the Scient bottle to the China National Food and Safety Supervision andInspection Center for analysis, which showed the milk powder contained 132.9 micrograms ofmelamine per 1 kilogram - 132 times the national standard for all contaminants in the formula.

At least six children died and 300,000 others were poisoned by milk formula tainted with melamine in 2008.

No Compromise

"I couldn't bear to compromise as a father. Food safety is a life or death matter. What I did, I did to protect my child," Guo said, explaining that he first met with employees from Yashili to discuss compensation in June 2009. "After a negotiation in this teahouse, they paid me 400,000 yuan ($58,000)," he said.

Days later, in an interview with Beijing TV, he said the enterprises involved in the scandal should shoulder their responsibility and cover the costs for the families affected.

"This is when Yashili called to invite me again to meet and discuss compensation," he said. "I didn't think about it too much, but taking into consideration my child's physical condition and the money I'd lost from taking time off work, I suggested an additional 3 million yuan - and they agreed."

He said the deal was put in writing. However, within weeks, police arrested Guo while he was on a business trip as an interpreter in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, on allegations of blackmail.

At his trial in January 2010 - held in Chaozhou, Guangdong province, where Yashili is based - prosecutors said Guo had threatened the company in order to receive more money, according to a report by Guangzhou Daily. The nature of the alleged threat is unclear.

Representing himself

Guo's appeals were all dismissed until 2013, when the Guangdong Provincial High People's Court accepted the case. Last month, it overturned the conviction on grounds of insufficient evidence - nearly three years after Guo was released from prison.

"I used to have lawyers, but they thought I had acted excessively. We had different ideas, so I defended myself in the appeal hearing," he said, adding that he saw his daughter for the first time since his conviction last summer.

Hearing the news of the appeal, Jiang Yalin, a mother in Jiangsu province whose daughter was also poisoned by tainted milk powder, gave a thumbs-up.

"I tried to get some funds for the affected children, too, but I failed," she said. "I gave up, but he didn't."

The experience has come at a price for Guo, however. The lengthy time in prison has affected his health, he said, and his wife also divorced him shortly after his conviction.

"For my family, a confession would have meant I could get out earlier, but for me it was like admitting I'd made a mistake," he said. "I had no choice: If I wanted to safeguard my daughter's legal rights, I had to sacrifice the time I would have with her."

Guo, who is currently unemployed and lives on a 1,000 yuan monthly welfare subsidy from the Beijing city government, said he plans to return to Guangdong to meet with Yashili to discuss the 3 million yuan compensation.

"I'll go and ask for an answer, no matter who is in charge now. They should honor their commitment," he said at the teahouse. "I can only focus on one thing. All I can do now is end this case as quickly as possible."

Guo said he also plans to apply for State compensation for his wrongful conviction.

A spokesman for Yashili, who did not want to be named, said last week that the company would respect the verdict, although he did not know about the compensation claim.

If Guo appeals to a court and the court acknowledges his evidence, the company will abide by the court rulings, the spokesman said.

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