Fonterra Co-operative Group says it is sceptical of the legal foundation for a claim against the company at the Hong Kong Small Claims Tribunal over the melamine poisoning debacle in China.
It said that tribunal had adjourned until May 25 a claim against a Fonterra company, requiring the claimants to provide some evidence in support of their claim.
Frustrated by their inability to get compensation in China, four parents whose children were poisoned in the country's tainted milk scandal took their cases to Hong Kong on Tuesday, Associated Press reported.
Children of the four parents were among 300,000 who got sick after consuming milk products deliberately contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine to fool inspectors testing for protein content.
Fonterra was not accused of wrongdoing, but through a Hong Kong subsidiary it was a 43% shareholder in the now-defunct Chinese dairy company Sanlu Group, one of the firms at the heart of the milk scandal.
Lawyer Peng Jian, whose firm represents about 200 parents of Sanlu victims, said a $US132 million fund set up by the company to compensate victims required an onerous application procedure and did not treat victims fairly, so four of his clients are seeking compensation in Hong Kong.
On Tuesday, Peng and client Chen Lu attended the first hearing in Hong Kong's Small Claims Tribunal. Chen said her three-year-old daughter suffered from kidney stones after drinking baby formula made from Sanlu milk powder since birth and is currently too weak to attend kindergarten.
"I have paid medical expenses. I don't work so I can stay home and take care of my child. Fonterra should pay me appropriate compensation," Chen said after Tuesday's hearing.
Chen, from the central Chinese city of Zhengzhou, has been awarded 2000 yuan ($NZ402) in compensation in China and is seeking another 14,800 Hong Kong dollars ($NZ2600) in Hong Kong, which caps small claims compensation at $HK50,000. Other parents are seeking amounts ranging from $HK12,400 to $HK33,500.
Fonterra general counsel David Matthews said the claimants were residents of mainland China and the Chinese Government managed the compensation for victims of melamine poisoning.
"We understand that the lawyer representing the claimants has already pursued compensation matters in mainland China and we believe that is where this matter should be dealt with, not Hong Kong," he said.
"We do not believe there is any legal foundation for this claim," he said
Mr Matthews said Sanlu was wound up last year, partly as a result of having to meet its share of the compensation scheme established by the Chinese government.
Fonterra had written off the entire value of its investment in Sanlu – more than $NZ200 million.