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China Ex-Rail Chief Given Suspended Death Sentence for Bribery

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July 8 (Bloomberg) -- China’s former railway minister was given a suspended death sentence for abuse of power and taking bribes, making him the highest-raking official convicted since Xi Jinping took over the Communist Party last year.

Liu Zhijun, 60, will be deprived of political rights for life and all his property will be confiscated, the official Xinhua News Agency said today, citing the Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court. Under Chinese law, his death sentence may be reduced to life imprisonment for good behavior.

The punishment completes the downfall of an official whose case symbolized the corruption that accompanied the roll-out of the world’s biggest high-speed rail network. Allegations of graft surrounding the rail construction, along with a 2011 bullet-train crash that killed 40 people, reflect broader concern over the quality of China’s infrastructure expansion.

While Liu is the highest-level official to be sentenced since President Xi Jinping announced an anti-graft campaign last year, the former minister was ousted from his post in 2011, when President Hu Jintao was still in power.

Former Politburo member Bo Xilai, removed from the Communist Party last year, is awaiting trial on bribery and abuse of power charges. Chen Tonghai, former chairman of China Petroleum & Chemical Corp., received a suspended death penalty in 2009 for taking 196 million yuan in bribes.

The presiding judge in the case said Liu confessed to his crimes and cooperated along with his family in retrieving the bribes, Xinhua said today. Liu had a good attitude and showed repentance during his trial, according to the report.

Not Necessary

“Taking all the facts of the whole case and Liu’s relevant behavior into consideration, the court holds that an immediate execution is not necessary,” Xinhua reported, citing the judge’s ruling.

Liu was charged with accepting 64.6 million yuan ($10.5 million) in bribes between 1986 and 2011, Xinhua said. He was among the highest ranked Chinese officials to face charges until the downfall of Politburo member Bo Xilai, the Chongqing Communist Party secretary who is awaiting trial.

China’s Communist Party has called corruption one of the biggest threats to its legitimacy. In a meeting of the ruling Politburo last month, Xi said high-level officials should strictly manage their relatives and their staff and refrain from abuse of power, the People’s Daily newspaper reported in June.

To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Henry Sanderson in Beijing at hsanderson@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rosalind Mathieson at rmathieson3@bloomberg.net