China's 'smiling face' official on trial for graft

BEIJING (AFP) - A Chinese official with a penchant for luxury watches who sparked outrage after he was pictured smiling at the scene of a fatal accident went on trial on Friday for corruption, reports said.

Yang Dacai was dubbed "Brother Watch" by Chinese Internet users after images of him wearing various luxury brand watches were tracked down and circulated online.

He came under scrutiny from furious netizens after he was pictured grinning broadly as he assessed the twisted wreckage of a bus and a methanol tanker following an accident which left 36 people dead last year.

An investigation by the ruling Communist Party's discipline inspection commission found him guilty of "inappropriate 'smiling face' behaviour" and he was dismissed from his post as head of the work safety administration in Shaanxi province.

Yang went on trial on Friday accused of having property worth 5.04 million yuan (S$1.05 million) from unexplained sources, and accepting 250,000 yuan in bribes, state broadcaster CCTV said on its verified Sina Weibo microblog.

He did not object to the charges, it added.

Yang is one of a number of government officials to be derided by netizens after being involved in an online scandal, as authorities seek to contain popular anger at perceived expensive tastes and corruption among public servants.

Pictures posted online showed him wearing 11 flashy watches - five of which were together worth more than 300,000 yuan, the China Daily newspaper quoted an expert as saying. Other images showed him in designer glasses and belts.

Last December, Yuan Zhanting, the mayor of Lanzhou, the capital of China's relatively poor northwestern province of Gansu, was ridiculed after an Internet user posted pictures of him wearing a total of five luxury wristwatches, the state-run Global Times said. One of them, an Omega, was worth 150,000 yuan.

Earlier this month, four judges in Shanghai were suspended over allegations they patronised prostitutes after an anonymous blogger posted footage online.

The leadership of the ruling party under President Xi Jinping has repeatedly pledged to crack down on corruption.

But authorities are now attempting to rein in Internet chatter with a campaign against online rumours.

Earlier this month officials told Internet celebrities with millions of online followers to "promote virtues" and "uphold law" online.

A journalist has been detained for "fabricating rumours" after he made online accusations of wrongdoing against a former senior official in Chongqing, the megacity once headed by fallen politician Bo Xilai.

Chinese-American billionaire blogger Charles Xue was also arrested this month for suspected involvement in prostitution and "group licentiousness".

Xue attracted 12 million followers on Sina Weibo, China's equivalent of Twitter, regularly posting reform-minded comments on a variety of sensitive issues.