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China executes vice mayors in corruption crackdown

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Two former senior officials in the Chinese government were on Tuesday executed following convictions on corruption charges, marking the highest punishment meted out to corrupt officials in recent years as the ruling Communist Party moves to tackle a rampant graft problem.

The officials, who were former vice mayors of the prosperous eastern cities of Hangzhou and Suzhou, had been accused of taking millions of dollars in bribes in awarding contracts in the cities’ booming real estate markets.

China convicts thousands of officials on graft charges every year, but few high-ranked officials have been handed the death sentence. The cases follow a strong warning issued by President Hu Jintao to party officials earlier this month, when he described the fight against corruption as key to the Communist Party’s very “survival”.

Xu Maiyong, who served as the vice mayor of Hangzhou, had used his official power to interfere with project contracts and help companies acquire land, the Supreme People’s Court said in a statement. He had accepted 145 million yuan (US $ 22 million) in bribes, and embezzled 54 million yuan (US $ 8.3 million) from a government-managed property company. Xu was removed from his post in April 2009.

Xu’s actions had “severely harmed the image and reputation of the government” and “grievously harmed the interests of the nation,” the court said.

In an unrelated case, Jiang Renjie, the vice mayor of Suzhou, another prosperous southern commercial centre, was convicted of taking 108 million yuan (US $ 16.6 million) in cash from property developers.

Accepting bribes is one of 55 crimes for which the death sentence is handed out by Chinese courts. China does not release information on the number of executions, classifying it as a “state secret”, although rights groups have estimated, based on media reports, that the country executed more than a thousand people last year – a far higher number than in any other country.

Earlier this year, China reduced the number of crimes punishable by death sentence from 68 to 55, removing from the list economic offences and some non-violent crimes. Corruption and the accepting of bribes, is however, still punishable by the death sentence.

Xu and Jiang are among the highest-ranked officials who have been handed the death sentence in recent years.

Last year, Wen Qiang, the police chief of the western municipality of Chongqing, was executed following a widespread corruption crackdown, while in 2007, the former head of the State Drug and Food Administration was executed after reportedly taking bribes and approving poor quality drugs that led to more than ten deaths.

Earlier this month, the Chinese President warned in a speech on the 90th anniversary of the Communist Party that “if not effectively curbed, corruption will cost the Party the trust and support of the people.”

He called for a “complicated and arduous battle”, warning “leading officials at all levels” that “power is entrusted to us by the people and can only be used in their interests”.

Recent corruption crackdowns have, however, also been seen by Chinese analysts and scholars as also being driven, in part, by behind-the-scenes political manoeuvring, given the seeming arbitrariness with which some officials are convicted while many others go unpunished. Chinese legal experts have also called for more transparency with which courts handle such cases.

The Chongqing crackdown, which brought down Wen Qiang, was widely regarded as a move by the municipality’s party chief, Bo Xilai, to consolidate his power ahead of the scheduled transition of power to a new administration that begins next year.

The most high-profile official who has been convicted of corruption charges was the former Shanghai party chief and Politburo member Chen Liangyu, who was handed a 18-year sentence for corruption in 2007.

Chen was accused of being involved in a scandal that saw the misappropriation of more than US $ 400 million of the city's pension funds. Mr. Chen was, however, also regarded as a political rival of President Hu Jintao.

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Printable version | Dec 12, 2019 4:34:22 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/china-executes-vice-mayors-in-corruption-crackdown/article2259776.ece

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