Former Chinese minister of railways Liu Zhijun (劉志軍) was given a suspended death sentence yesterday for “especially huge” bribery, becoming the highest-ranking official to be punished for corruption since new leaders vowed to clean up the Chinese Communist Party.
Once hailed as the “father” of China’s flagship high-speed rail network, Liu, 60, was convicted of bribery and abuse of power by a court in Beijing, Xinhua news agency said.
State TV showed the diminutive, bespectacled defendant standing impassively in the dock in a dark jacket, flanked by two police.
Liu was sacked as railways minister in 2011 after eight years in the post, and the scandal surrounding him is reported to have involved as much as 800 million yuan (US$130 million).
He was convicted of accepting 64.6 million yuan in bribes to help 11 people secure contracts and promotions. The No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court held that Liu’s crimes involved an “especially huge amount of money” and “caused colossal losses in the public assets, violating rights and interests of the state and the people,” Xinhua said.
“Liu Zhijun was sentenced to the death penalty with two years’ suspension,” a court official said by telephone.
Suspended death sentences in China are normally commuted to life imprisonment.
Under Chinese law, capital punishment can be imposed for taking bribes exceeding 100,000 yuan.
The court found that Liu’s offenses deserved execution, but he was granted leniency because he had confessed, shown repentance and helped investigators recover his assets, Xinhua said.
The court ordered all of Liu’s personal property to be confiscated and issued a separate sentence of 10 years in prison for abuse of power, Xinhua said.
China’s rail system — which has cost hundreds of billions of dollars — has been one of the ruling party’s flagship development projects in recent years, and the country now boasts the world’s longest high-speed network.
However, a high-speed crash in the eastern city of Wenzhou killed 40 people in 2011, sparking public criticism that authorities compromised safety in their rush to expand the network.
The railways ministry was disbanded in March, with its administrative functions handed to the transport ministry and its commercial role to a new China Railway Corp.
The country’s new leaders under Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) have vowed to fight corruption, identifying it as a threat to Chinese Communist Party rule.
In January, Xi was quoted by state media as telling the party’s corruption watchdog there would be “no leniency” for wrongdoing.
In May, Xinhua reported that Liu Tienan (劉鐵男), the former deputy director of the National Development and Reform Commission, was being investigated for alleged “serious disciplinary violations” — phrasing which typically refers to graft.
Former Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai (薄熙來) is also expected to face trial for allegedly taking bribes and helping cover up his wife’s murder of a British businessman.
Numerous low-level officials have come under investigation after social media users exposed alleged corruption, with some cases involving expensive watches or multiple mistresses.
Liu, a longtime railways official, studied transport management and held senior posts in several provinces, before joining the national railways ministry in 1994 and rising to minister in 2003.
Users of China’s popular microblog service Sina Weibo were skeptical about his punishment, with some condemning it as too lenient.
“Such good news for corrupted officials. This is encouraging them, because the worst result will just be a suspended death penalty,” one said.
“Oh dear, now he’s going to keep wasting taxpayers’ money,” another said.