Ex-China bank chief enters graft plea
Updated: 2006-10-01 09:05

BEIJING - The former chairman of one of China's biggest banks pleaded guilty to charges that he took bribes to arrange loans, according to a report published Saturday. The plea adds to a string of high-level graft cases at Chinese banks.

Zhang Enzhao resigned 16 months ago as chairman of China Construction Bank Ltd., one of China's top four state-owned banks. The bank said he quit for personal reasons, but later disclosed he was suspected of unspecified wrongdoing.

On Thursday, Zhang pleaded guilty in the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate Court to taking bribes, but he said the amount was lower than the US$520,000 cited by prosecutors, the Beijing News reported.

It was the most detailed account yet of the charges against the 60-year-old Zhang.

The report did not say when Zhang might be sentenced or what penalty he might face. A court employee who would give only his surname, Liu, confirmed that Zhang stood trial Thursday but said he did not know the plea or other details.

China's banking industry has been battered by dozens of such cases, usually against managers accused of embezzlement or arranging fraudulent loans.

The scandals come at a time when Chinese banks are trying to raise money from foreign investors to modernize operations, as China prepares to fully open the banking market to foreign rivals. Much of the wrongdoing has been uncovered as banks undergo audits in preparation for selling shares on Chinese and foreign stock markets.

The revelations have not shaken investor enthusiasm for Chinese banks.

Construction Bank, the first of the "big four" banks to hold an initial public offering abroad, raised US$9.2 billion in October in Hong Kong in the world's biggest IPO of 2006.

A former Construction Bank president, Wang Xuebing, was sentenced in 2003 to 12 years in prison on charges of taking bribes while working as the New York City branch manager of another major Chinese bank. That bank, Bank of China Ltd., agreed to pay a US$20 million fine to US and Chinese regulators.

In the biggest reported graft case to date, a former Bank of China employee was sentenced in April to 12 years in prison for helping embezzle $485 million from the bank. The employee was extradited from the United States in 2004 after Chinese authorities promised he would not face the death penalty.

Zhang, the former Construction Bank chairman, faced 19 counts of taking cash and property in exchange for helping people obtain loans from his bank, according to the Beijing News.