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Former vice-mayor sentenced to death in massive bribery case

By Zhang Yi and Cao Yin | China Daily | Updated: 2018-03-29 07:24
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The former vice-mayor of a northern Chinese city has become the first corrupt official to be given the death penalty since the launch of a widespread anti-graft crackdown in 2012.

Zhang Zhongsheng was sentenced on Wednesday in Linfen, Shanxi province, after being convicted of accepting 1.04 billion yuan ($165 million) in bribes.

Between 1997 and 2013, he accepted massive kickbacks to help others land lucrative contracts - including in the coal mining sector - while serving as a county head and then vice-mayor of Lyuliang, according to Linfen People's Intermediate Court.

"The death penalty is only applicable to those whose crimes are extremely serious," the court said in a statement. "When the amount of corruption is particularly large and the circumstances are particularly serious and have a severe social influence, the defendant can be sentenced to death under the law.

"In the 18 charges against Zhang, two were related to bribes exceeding 200 million yuan. He also asked others to pay him more than 88 million yuan."

The court said Zhang's actions had seriously affected the local economy and had a negative social impact in the province and the whole country. It added that he has yet to return about 300 million yuan in illicit assets.

Zhang will have 10 days to appeal his sentence. If he doesn't appeal, the ruling will be passed to the Shanxi High People's Court and then to the Supreme People's Court for review and approval.

Since 2012, the Party has accelerated its anti-corruption campaign. Many corruption cases involve provincial or ministerial officials receiving more than 100 million yuan in bribes, but none have been sentenced to death.

The last officials to be executed for serious graft were Xu Maiyong, former vice-mayor of Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, and Jiang Renjie, former vice-mayor of Suzhou, Jiangsu province. Both were put to death in July 2011.

Yang Xiaojun, a law professor at the Chinese Academy of Governance, said many corrupt officials do not receive a death sentence because the country encourages them to contribute by reporting and disclosing other illegal behavior, which is one of the reasons China has made so much progress fighting corruption since 2012.

"It is called justice tempered with mercy. But this does not mean that corruption is no longer subject to the death penalty," Yang said.

"Before the trial, many guessed Zhang would not be sentenced to death. The trial powerfully countered that view. The death penalty is an effective deterrent and warning to those with corrupt thoughts."

Sun Ruisheng contributed to this story.

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