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CAS corruption claims

China Daily | Updated: 2013-09-16 08:23

Despite a denial from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the stigma of corruption that has emerged during the prosecution of Zhang Shuguang, former deputy chief engineer of the previous Ministry of Railways, has not been removed.

When Zhang stood trial for bribery at a Beijing court on Tuesday, he admitted the charge against him, but said 23 million yuan ($4.41 million) of the bribes he had received was used to buy votes in his bid to secure membership to the academy.

Due to easy access to government-subsidized research projects, CAS membership has always been competed for fiercely, and Zhang's allegations suggest that previous complaints about the membership process have not put an end to the irregularities that have sparked public outcries.

Shi Yigong, head of the School of Life Sciences under Tsinghua University, failed to gain a seat at the CAS in 2011, but his election as an academician by the US National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in late April once again resulted in public doubts about the fairness of CAS' membership selection process.

In response to the re-ignited controversy over its membership election system, the academy issued a statement last week saying it had not received any complaints about fraud in Zhang's two failed applications. He applied for membership in 2007 and 2009.

The Academy deserves a pat on the back for being so quick to respond. After all, we have seen too many legitimate public inquiries fall on deaf ears. But the simple answer that it had not received any complaints is obviously not enough, because it is ridiculous to think that an applicant who had bought votes or those who had been bought would lodge complaints.

We believe the CAS can do a better job in safeguarding its honor and should launch a serious probe into Zhang's claim: Did he spend money on vote buying? If he did, where did the money go?

Given the incessant rumors about irregularities in the selection of academicians in China, the Academy now has a good opportunity to prove its innocence. The premise, however, is truthful scrutiny of the clue Zhang has contributed.

Or, if this is beyond the CAS' capabilities, the judiciary may want to step in.

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