Thu, Dec 15, 2005 - Page 5 News List

High-profile graft trial of ex-minister begins in China

AP , BEIJING

The former head of China's powerful Land and Resources Ministry has gone on trial for taking bribes, the government said yesterday, in the country's highest-level graft scandal since a senior legislator was executed in 2001.

Tian Fengshan (田鳳山) was fired from his post two years ago for discipline violations, the government said at the time.

On Tuesday, a trial against him opened at the Beijing Municipal No. 2 Court, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. He is accused of accepting more than 4 million yuan (US$500,000) in bribes between 1995 and 2003, Xinhua said. All the funds have been recovered, it said.

The court heard Tian's defense but has yet to issue a verdict, Xinhua said.

An official who answered the phone at the Beijing Municipal No. 2 Court who refused to give his name confirmed that Tian's case was heard on Tuesday but said he did not know whether the trial was continuing yesterday.

From 1995 to 2000, Tian was the governor of Heilongjiang Province, and then served as Minister for Land and Resources from 2000 to 2003.

The Beijing Morning Post reported yesterday that Tian admitted to all of the 17 cases of bribery raised by the prosecution.

Among those was a 100,000 yuan bribe in 1999 from Ma De, a former Communist Party secretary from Suihua City in Heilongjiang Province, allegedly given in exchange for Tian's help in getting funding for a broadcast building, the paper said.

Ma was sentenced to death with a two year reprieve in July for corruption, the official China Daily newspaper reported earlier. Such suspended death sentences usually are commuted to life in prison if the convict is deemed to have reformed.

The China Daily said in July that Ma escaped execution because he cooperated with officials and "exposed the clues of other official's bribery behaviors."

The case against Tian is China's highest-level graft scandal since a deputy chairman of its legislature was executed in 2001 on charges of bribe-taking.

Tian's former deputy in Heilongjiang, Zhu Shengwen, committed suicide in prison in December 2003, state media said. He had claimed at his 1998 trial that he was tortured into confessing, according to human rights groups.

Zhu was convicted amid an anti-corruption crackdown in China's northeast, a region known as the nation's rustbelt for its moribund heavy industries. Many cases involved accusations that local officials were stealing state assets in collusion with organized crime.

Corruption is widespread in China, and top officials have expressed fears that endemic graft could undermine Communist Party rule.

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