China official gets suspended death sentence for graft

BEIJING (AFP) - A high-ranking Chinese regional official was given a suspended death sentence for corruption on Friday, a court announced, the latest showcase in the country's anti-graft campaign.

Zhou Zhenhong, 56, formerly chief of the United Front Work Department (UFWD) in the southern province of Guangdong, was convicted of taking more than 24.6 million yuan (S$5.1 million) in bribes between 2002 and 2011, the high court of Henan in central China said in a statement.

He was condemned to death with a two-year reprieve, a penalty normally commuted to life imprisonment.

Zhou was also found guilty of possessing unexplained assets valued at more than 37 million yuan, the statement said.

The UFWD is an agency that liaises between the ruling Communist Party and non-Communist organisations.

Zhou took bribes from 33 people in exchange for job promotions, business deals and election to political advisory positions, the statement said.

"The value of bribes Zhou Zhenhong took was huge and the circumstances were particularly severe," it said.

Zhou is one of a number of officials who have fallen in a much-publicised crackdown under China's President Xi Jinping, who took the helm as chief of the ruling party in November 2012.

Mr Xi has warned that corruption could destroy the organisation and threatened to stamp down on high-ranking officials, or "tigers", along with low-level "flies".

In July, China sentenced ex-railway minister Liu Zhijun to death with a two-year reprieve for taking 64.6 million yuan in bribes.

Although the anti-graft drive has reportedly curbed government extravagance to a certain extent, critics say no systemic reforms have been introduced to increase transparency, which would help fight endemic corruption.

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