China official jailed for 17 years over jade bribes

BEIJING (AFP) - A former senior Chinese provincial official was sentenced Saturday to 17 years in jail for taking around 13 million yuan (S$17.72 million) in bribes consisting largely of precious stones, a court said.

Ni Fake, a former deputy governor of the eastern province of Anhui, is the latest official to fall in Chinese President Xi Jinping's much-touted campaign against corruption.

The Intermediate People's Court in Dongying City said in a statement on its official microblog that Ni was also stripped of personal property worth one million yuan.

The court is in Anhui's neighbouring province of Shandong. China typically holds corruption trials outside the geographical area where the alleged crimes took place, to separate officials from their local power bases.

According to the court statement, the 60-year-old was found to have accepted "cash, jade artefacts and precious stones" from company executives on 49 occasions over the course of 12 years.

The bribes amounted to nearly 13 million yuan, the court said.

Jade has been used in Chinese art for millennia, and has long been as valued as gold is in the West, but it carries loftier moral connotations including purity and longevity.

Corrupt officials have in recent years turned to taking bribes in the form of art and precious stones rather than money, according to state media.

The ruling Communist Party's top anti-graft body said Ni was "obsessed with collecting jade" and had appointed himself honorary chairman of the provincial jewellery industry association, according to an earlier report by the state-run Shanghai Daily.

The official wore jade accessories every day and went to jade stores every weekend, the report quoted the Party's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) as saying.

Ni will not appeal, according to the court statement.

Xi's anti-graft campaign has ensnared a number of senior figures including Zhou Yongkang, a former member of China's all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee.

But critics say the Communist Party has resisted introducing reforms seen as key measures against graft, such as publishing officials' assets, relaxing controls on media and establishing an independent legal system.