Beijing uncovers huge graft scandal

CORRUPTION: The builder in charge of building a network of roads around the Chinese capital accepted huge bribes several times, according to media reports

REUTERS , Beijing

Tue, Aug 10, 2004 - Page 5

The man entrusted with building possibly the world's largest network of ringroads, around China's expanding capital, Beijing, has been handed over for criminal investigation for taking huge bribes, state media said yesterday.

Bi Yuxi, head of the Capital Road Development Corporation and a deputy director of the Beijing City Transport office, had been expelled from the Communist Party for his "degenerate" behavior and was under investigation, the Beijing Youth Daily said in a front-page article.

"He several times accepted huge bribes," the newspaper said. "Bi Yuxi was morally degenerate and his lifestyle was decadent and dissolute."

He had been handed over to judicial authorities for criminal investigation, the newspaper said. Chinese media, unrestrained by contempt of court laws of the West, often quote police confirming a defendant's guilt or confession before a case has come to court.

It is the first major corruption case to break in the capital, Beijing, since President and party chief Hu Jintao took over the party in November 2002 and his state post in March last year.

It was unclear how wide the net would be cast or whether other officials with the firm -- closely linked with the Beijing government -- were under investigation.

The case is the latest sign of worsening graft in China. More than 20,000 corruption cases were investigated in the first six months of this year, Procurator-General Jia Chunwang (賈春王) said in the China Daily.

Jia gave no comparison with the number of cases a year earlier, but said 713 involved sums of 1 million yuan (US$120,000) or more, up 6.9 percent from a year earlier.

A Chinese source familiar with the probe into the construction of huge ringroads around the capital said Bi had implicated other corporate leaders after being detained in April on suspicion of embezzling as much as 60 million yuan (US$7.25 million).

"I just took tea money," Bi was quoted as saying by the source.

"If all he took was tea money, what did the others take? Food money?" the source said.

Beijing's entrenched political leadership has been a regular target of corruption investigations.

In the mid-1990s, former president and party chief Jiang Zemin (江澤民) took down Chen Xitong (陳希同), the party boss of Beijing and a member of the omnipotent Politburo. He was jailed for 16 years for corruption.

Beijing also has come under fire for awarding land rights to developers for minimal fees -- a system officials with the central government's Ministry of Land and Resources described as "full of loopholes that invite corruption," the influential Caijing magazine reported in June.

Such loopholes let developers buy rights to state-owned land in 2002 and 2003 that nearly matched the rights granted in the entire preceding decade, Caijing said.

But the ministry this year ordered all rights to be determined through auctions and tenders and set a deadline of Aug. 31 -- the "831 Big Deadline" -- for developers to pay up 120 billion yuan (US$14.50 billion) in fees or forfeit the rights.

China's leaders have warned in recent years that the Communist Party faces self-destruction if it fails to crack down on corruption, a scourge that toppled several imperial dynasties.

Corruption was virtually wiped out in the years after the Communists came to power in 1949 but has staged a comeback in the wake of economic reforms introduced in the late 1970s.

Of the total 24,247 people under investigation for corruption in the first half of the year, 1,690 were officials of county magistrate or higher levels, the China Daily said.