China sets death penalty threshold in graft cases at 3 million yuan

China has ruled on April 18 that bribes or embezzlement adding to 3 million yuan or more may incur the death penalty in future.
China has ruled on April 18 that bribes or embezzlement adding to 3 million yuan or more may incur the death penalty in future. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (AFP) - Corruption cases involving 3 million yuan (S$628,235) or more may incur the death penalty in future, Chinese authorities ruled on Monday (April 18), signalling that officials could be executed for graft.

Under President Xi Jinping the country has waged a much-publicised anti-corruption campaign vowing to target both powerful "tigers" and low-level "flies", but no Communist Party official is known to have been put to death for the offence since Xi took office.

The Supreme People's Court and China's national prosecuting body said that bribes or embezzlement totalling 3 million yuan or more will be considered "extraordinarily huge value", the Xinhua news agency reported.

Such offenders will be eligible for the death penalty if their actions had "extremely severe circumstances and caused extremely vile social impact and extremely significant losses to the state's and the people's interests", Xinhua cited their joint "judicial explanation" as saying.

Capital punishment will remain an option for the courts - which in China are controlled by the ruling party - and will not be mandatory.

The intent was to punish corruption "with severity according to the law", Xinhua said.

Supreme People's Court judge Pei Xianding said judicial authorities would hand down death sentences "in a resolute manner", Xinhua reported separately.

A previous threshold was set in 1997 at 100,000 yuan, but was not updated until it was abolished last year.

Xi's crackdown has swept up scores of senior officials in the party, the government, the military and state-owned companies, including former security czar Zhou Yongkang.

So far its most severe sentences have been death with a two-year reprieve - which is normally commuted to a life term - or life imprisonment, which Zhou was given.

Former railways minister Liu Zhijun was given a suspended death penalty in 2013 for taking bribes worth 60 million yuan, which was commuted to life imprisonment last year.

The document also widened the range of benefits that can be defined as bribes, to include debt forgiveness among others, the report said.

Any acceptance of gifts by government employees that might affect the performance of their public duties will be regarded as bribery even if there was no specific request by the briber at the time, it said.