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China Cadre Who Smiled at Crash Scene Sent to Jail for Graft

Former Shaanxi Work Safety Head Yang Dacai
Yang Dacai, former head of work safety in Shaanxi province, stands in the courtroom of the Intermediate People's Court in Xi'an, Shaanxi province on Sept. 5, 2013. Source: AFP/Getty Images

A Chinese official who was vilified on social media over his luxury watch collection and images that showed him smiling at the scene of a deadly bus crash was sentenced to 14 years in prison for graft.

Yang Dacai, the former head of work safety in Shaanxi province, was convicted today of taking bribes and possessing “a large amount” of property he couldn’t account for, the official Xinhua News Agency said today.

Yang’s case became a symbol of corruption within the Communist Party after Internet users angered by images from the crash scene uncovered more pictures in which he was seen wearing expensive watches, earning him the nickname “Brother Watch.” President Xi Jinping has started an anti-graft campaign targeting officials at all levels of power amid warnings that corruption threatens the party’s rule.

Chinese Internet users began investigating Yang on their own -- a process nicknamed the “human flesh search engine” -- after the images circulated online in August 2012 showing him smiling at the scene of a traffic accident that killed 36 people. He was fired from his post and expelled from the Communist Party in February.

“His expression was seen as inappropriate and unsympathetic,” Xinhua said in a report today. When his trial began last month, Xinhua said the proceedings showed Chinese citizens’ power to root out malfeasance online.

Tighten Control

China has also sought to tighten control of the world’s largest population of web users, passing legislation requiring people to identify themselves when signing up for Internet and phone services.

The Xi’an Intermediate People’s Court ordered the confiscation of 250,000 yuan ($40,900) in bribes that Yang took and 5 million yuan in property he couldn’t account for.

Yang’s sentence comes after former Politburo member Bo Xilai faced trial on corruption charges and the former chairman of China National Petroleum Corp., Jiang Jiemin, was put under investigation for discipline violations.

At a briefing today, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said probes into corruption allegations will be beneficial for the growth of China’s oil sector.

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