The prosecution argued that the defendants, Wang * Cheng, Jin * Miao, Sun * Fa, Zong * Dong, and Zhou * Ming, conspired to endanger public safety by illegally purchasing sodium cyanide. Although such actions should result in criminal liability for illegally trading toxic substances, the prosecution recommended lesser, suspended sentences because the defendants truthfully confessed to their crimes. They had also purchased the sodium cyanide for electroplating purposes, and no serious consequences ensued.
Counsel for Wang * Cheng submitted (i) sodium cyanide is a toxic chemical the use of which is restricted, not prohibited, so it does not belong to the category of poisonous substances; (ii) the conduct of Wang * Cheng and others in purchasing sodium cyanide without authorization does not satisfy the requirements of Article 125(2) of the Criminal Law; and (iii) as no serious consequences ensued, Wang * Cheng should be found not guilty.
The court found that defendants Wang * Cheng and Jin * Miao, who were unauthorized to purchase or use acutely toxic chemicals, made a contract that Wang * Cheng should purchase sodium cyanide. From October 2006 to the end of 2007, he bought three lots of sodium cyanide from Ni Ronghua (prosecuted separately) for CNY 1,000 per barrel, paying a total of CNY 40,000. From August 2008 to September 2009, he bought three lots of sodium cyanide from Li Guangming (prosecuted separately) for CNY 975 per bag, paying a total of CNY 117,000.
Wang * Cheng and Jin * Miao stored the sodium cyanide in the locked warehouses of their workshops in a hardware company in Shaoxing, Zhejiang, and used the substance for electroplating production.
Wang * Cheng used one-third of the total amount, while Jin * Miao used two-thirds. In May 2008 and July 2009, respectively, defendant Sun * Fa purchased one barrel and one bag of sodium cyanide from Wang * Cheng for CNY 2,000. In July and August 2008, defendant Zhong * Dong bought five bags of sodium cyanide from Wang * Cheng for CNY 1,000 per bag. In September 2009, defendant Zhou * Ming bought three bags of sodium cyanide from Wang * Cheng for CNY 1,000 per bag.
Sun * Fa, Zhong * Dong, and Zhou * Ming stored the sodium cyanide in their locked warehouses, or in their respective workshops’ water troughs, and used the material for electroplating production.
On 31 March 2012, the Yuecheng District People’s Court in Shaoxing, Zhejiang issued the [2011, Shaoxing Yuecheng, Criminal First Trial, No. 205] Criminal Judgment. The court imposed suspended custodial sentences on all five defendants for illegally trading and storing hazardous substances:
(i) Wang * Cheng: 3 years’ imprisonment, suspended for 5 years
(ii) Jin * Miao: 3 years’ imprisonment, suspended for 4 years and 6 months
(iii) Zhong * Dong: 3 years’ imprisonment, suspended for 4 years
(iv) Zhou * Ming: 3 years’ imprisonment, suspended for 3 years and 6 months
(v) Sun * Fa: 3 years’ imprisonment, suspended for 3 years
None of the defendants appealed.
The court found that all defendants had failed to obtain permits to use acutely toxic chemicals, and had violated regulations including the State Council’s Regulations for the Safe Management of Hazardous Chemicals, by illegally purchasing and storing sodium cyanide despite knowing it to be a toxic chemical. Their actions constituted the crime of illegally trading and storing hazardous substances, and all five defendants were joint offenders.
Rejecting counsel’s submissions on behalf of Wang * Cheng, the court held that although sodium cyanide was not a prohibited toxic chemical, it was restricted in the Catalog of Hazardous Chemicals. Sodium cyanide may cause poisoning or death, so it is highly toxic and hazardous to humans and the environment. As such, it falls under the definition of “toxic” substances in Article 125(2) of the Criminal Law.
The act of “illegally trading” toxic substances refers to the unauthorized act of buying or selling toxic substances in violation of laws and departmental regulations; it does not require buying and selling.
The defendants were not qualified to purchase or store sodium cyanide. Despite this, they violated state regulations and illegally bought and sold large amounts of toxic chemicals, evading official monitoring, disrupting the management regime for hazardous chemicals, and inflicting material harm on the lives, health, and property of the public. This was deemed sufficient to harm public safety, so the defendants’ actions constituted the crime of illegally trading and storing hazardous substances.
Following their arrests, all defendants confessed to their crimes; and as the sodium cyanide was used for electroplating production with no serious consequences, the court accepted they could be dealt with more leniently. In such circumstances, including the defendants’ contrition and other factors, suspended sentences were possible. The prosecution’s sentencing recommendations, and the pleas of Wang * Cheng, Zhong * Dong, and Zhou * Ming for lesser sentences, were accepted.
- The state strictly monitors and controls toxic substances that pose grave danger to human health and the environment—such as sodium cyanide, which can poison or kill people. Such substances fall within the definition of “toxic” under Article 125(2) of the Criminal Law.
- The act of “illegally trading” toxic substances refers to buying or selling toxic substances in violation of laws and agency regulations; it does not require buying and selling.