Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Ex-Beijing official gets death sentence

A former Beijing vice mayor in charge of overseeing Olympic construction projects has been given a suspended death sentence for corruption, a court said Sunday, in a stern warning to wayward Communist officials.
The Intermediate People’s Court in Hengshui, a city outside Beijing, delivered the sentence Saturday after finding Liu Zhihua guilty of taking bribes, said a court clerk who would only give his surname, Ma. The sentence will be commuted to life in prison in two years if Liu shows good behavior.
Before his sudden dismissal in 2006 for unspecified corruption, Liu was in charge of urban development in the Chinese capital and headed the office overseeing the $40 billion being spent by the city on Olympics-related infrastructure projects.
The government squelched all reporting on Liu’s high-profile prosecution in the months leading up to the August Olympic Games to avoid tarnishing its image on the global stage.
Officials said Liu’s misdeeds had nothing to do with Olympic projects, but his dismissal put a cloud over preparations for the games and prompted authorities to ratchet up anti-corruption efforts.
Liu faced 10 charges for allegedly accepting bribes totaling about $1 million and gifts in return for favors to property development companies while he was vice mayor, his lawyer Mo Shaoping told The Associated Press in a phone interview.
Liu was also convicted of helping his mistress, Wang Jianrui, profit from construction projects, Mo said.
Mo said, however, that some of the allegations were dubious, a common claim in a system in which courts are heavily influenced by the Communist Party and corruption charges are sometimes used to punish political opponents.
Corruption is rife among high officials, who enrich themselves through access to government resources and by using their authority to help approve business projects. Despite warnings by the party that graft threatens its very existence, the number of annual corruption prosecutions has remained almost unchanged in recent years.
“Liu will probably appeal the verdict, and the final decision will be made soon,” Mo said. Liu has 10 days to decide on an appeal.
Liu claimed in court that the case was an act of retaliation by a property developer who wanted to have Liu removed because of a dispute over a commercial and residential development across the street from several Olympic venues, Mo said.
The city government had seized control of the project, known as the Morgan Center, after developers failed to pay a land fee, and auctioned off the site in 2006, Liu said.
Unhappy over the outcome, the building’s developer sought to punish Liu by reporting his extramarital affair and other alleged improper dealings to authorities, Mo said, quoting Liu’s court testimony.
Mo said Liu showed remorse in his final statement during the trial, shedding tears as he apologized to his wife, children and colleagues for letting them down.
Liu’s abrupt dismissal prompted a citywide investigation by the Communist Party’s anti-corruption watchdog. An unspecified number of officials with city-backed construction and property companies were questioned, and many officials were charged with corruption.

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