TV grab from China Central Television video shows former Chinese Railways Minister Liu Zhijun attending his sentencing at a courtroom in Beijing. Liu was sentenced to suspended death for bribery. (AP)
A former high-profile railways minister known for spearheading the modernisation of China’s rail system was handed out a death sentence with a two-year reprieve on Monday on charges of corruption and taking bribes worth millions of US dollars.
State media reports said Liu Zhijun, under whose tenure thousands of kilometres of high-speed rail tracks were laid out, took advantage of his various positions in the railway ministry between 1986 and 2011 to take bribes worth over $10 million.
But a report in the state-run Beijing Times had said last month that the assets accumulated by Liu during his time in the ministry was much more than the bribe amount he is alleged to have accepted.
The Beijing Times report said that in other cases related to Liu's abuse of his official power, officials had seized large amounts of cash in various currencies. “These include 795.5 million Yuan, HK$85 million, US$235,000 and 2.2 million Euro Also recovered were other assets, such as shares, vehicles, flats and other valuables,” the report said.
Earlier state media reports said he owned 350 apartments, at least 16 cars and maintained 18 mistresses.
Among the most high-profile corruption cases in China ever, it is being seen as example of President Xi Jinping’s much-publicised anti-corruption crusade; after taking over the Presidency, Xi had promised to bring to book both the “tigers” and ‘flies” of corruption, indicating that seniority of the official will not influence punishment.
Liu’s slide began in 2011 after a high-speed train crash killed 40 people and triggered angry reaction from citizens across China who felt that unbridled development had begun to take its toll on ordinary people. He lost his job as minister soon after.
Beijing’s No 2 Intermediate People’s Court found that Liu helped associates win both cargo transportation and railway construction contracts. “He also helped them in the acquisition of shares in a bullet train wheel set company and with enterprise financing by breaking regulations and applying favoritism,” state media reports said.
“The court held that Liu's crime of bribery involved a huge amount of money with especially serious circumstances. His crime of abuse of power had caused colossal losses in public assets, violating the rights and interests of the state and the people,” the report said.
But the two-year reprieve from death sentence is an indicator that the law might show some leniency to him because he confessed to his crimes and directed investigators to new cases of corruption which the authorities had no clue about.
His family members too had cooperated with investigators in confiscating illegal gains.
According to an interpretation jointly issued by the Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People's Procuratorate, such criminals may be given a lighter penalty.