9 Jul 2013

Former Chinese railways minister gets suspended death sentence

12:15 pm on 9 July 2013

A Chinese court has given former railways minister Liu Zhijun a suspended death sentence for corruption and abuse of power.

Liu had been accused of accepting bribes totalling more than 64 million yuan or $NZ13.35 million over 25 years. Prosecutors say he awarded government rail contracts in return for bribes.

He is the most high-profile official to be tried and found guilty of corruption since Xi Jinping became China's leader earlier this year.

Mr Xi has called for a crackdown on corruption, vowing to tackle it from the powerful "tigers" at the top to the "flies" at the bottom of the Communist Party.

The state news agency Xinhua says Liu was convicted by a court in Beijing on Monday. It says he was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve, deprived of his political rights for life and jailed for 10 years. His personal property will also be confiscated.

Despite his sentence, he is not expected to face the death penalty - suspended death sentences are normally commuted to life imprisonment in China.

Safety scandals and fraud allegations

Liu began his tenure as railways minister in 2003 and led a big investment programme expanding the rail network. However, the high-speed railway network, said to be the largest in the world, has been plagued with safety scandals involving a series of accidents.

A deadly crash in Wenzhou city in July 2011 killed 40 people and caused a national outcry.

At least two government audits - one released in 2010 and another in 2013 - also showed evidence of fraud and irregular accounting in the handling of government funds.

In March, the government dissolved the railways ministry and subsumed it into the transport ministry.