China to prosecute former deputy sports minister, once on Olympics committee, for graft

 A message of congratulation is projected onto the Bird's Nest Olympic stadium as people gather after Beijing was chosen to host the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing Jul 31, 2015.
A message of congratulation is projected onto the Bird's Nest Olympic stadium as people gather after Beijing was chosen to host the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing Jul 31, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (Reuters) - A former deputy sports minister who once sat on China's Olympics committee will be prosecuted for graft after an investigation found he abused his position and took bribes, the Communist Party's corruption watchdog said on Thursday (Sept 24).

Corruption in international sports is in focus because of a United States and Swiss probe into world football body Fifa.

In July, Beijing won the right to host the 2022 Winter Olympics.

China, which is aggressively seeking to stamp out graft in party and government ranks, has also sought to eject corrupt elements from its sports establishment, especially within soccer, which has been hit by match-fixing scandals.

Mr Xiao Tian, who as a deputy head of the General Administration of Sport held a position equivalent of a vice-minister, abused his position to get his wife promotions, took bribes, spent government money on banquets and had private companies arrange for him to play golf, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection said.

He also "sought benefits for others" in approving sports competitions and "sports industry operations", it added, without elaborating.

Mr Xiao actively sought to interfere in the investigation into him, shifting funds around and engaging in a "conspiracy of silence", the watchdog said.

He has been expelled from the party and his case handed over the legal authorities, it added, meaning he will face prosecution.

It was not possible to reach Mr Xiao for comment and not clear if he has a lawyer.

President Xi Jinping launched a sweeping battle against corruption upon assuming power three years ago, including trying to get back suspects who have fled overseas, especially to popular destinations like the United States and Canada.

In a separate statement, the watchdog said that United States had deported another suspect, named as Kuang Wanfang, who fled to the US in 2001.

Last week, China hailed the return by the United States of China's most prominent fugitives wanted for corruption as good progress and a foundation for cooperation days before Mr Xi began a landmark US visit.

The failure by China to secure the return of suspects from the United States has been an irritant in ties.

The United States has said it is not averse to cooperating on the issue but China has often failed to produce the kind of evidence of criminality needed under US law to support deportation.