Tianjin blasts: 11 officials under probe

In all, 23 people have been detained or placed under investigation by Chinese authorities

HONG KONG• • The Chinese authorities, facing enormous pressure to account for catastrophic chemical blasts that killed more than 100 people two weeks ago, said yesterday that they had detained or placed under investigation 23 people in connection with the disaster.

The 11 people being investigated included Mr Wu Dai, chief of the transportation department in Tianjin, the north-eastern city where the blasts erupted on Aug 12.

Mr Zheng Qingyue, president of Tianjin Port (Group), is also under investigation.

Another official, Mr Wang Jinwen, who is a senior official with the Ministry of Transport, is being investigated for suspected abuse of power. An investigation by the Supreme People's Procuratorate (SPP) found that he had violated the law to help Tianjin Ruihai International Logistics, owner of the warehouse that was the site of the blasts and allegedly handled dangerous chemicals, pass safety evaluations and obtain approvals to handle hazardous materials.

The 11 officials have been placed under compulsive measures, which include summons by force, bail, residential surveillance, detention and arrest.

The authorities described the detainees as directly responsible for the blasts in Tianjin. The explosions killed 139 people and injured at least 700.

According to a separate statement by the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) yesterday, the police have detained 12 suspects involved in the massive blasts that devastated the port area.

The 12 people include Mr Yu Xuewei, chairman of Tianjin International Ruihai Logistics, vice-chairman Dong Shexuan, and Mr Zeng Fanqiang, an employee with a safety evaluation firm suspected of illegally helping Ruihai to acquire safety evaluation papers, according to the MPS.

The MPS said the detainees are suspected of illegally storing dangerous materials. The SPP statement said local government departments, including transportation management authorities, production safety regulatory agencies, and land and resources authorities, are accountable for the explosions.

The authorities described the detainees as directly responsible for the blasts in Tianjin. The explosions killed 139 people and injured at least 700. In making the announcement, prosecutors described Tianjin officials as "severely irresponsible" for failing to catch a number of violations committed by the owner of the warehouse.

The warehouse, which routinely handled highly toxic chemicals, was allowed to operate near apartment buildings and a train station, violating Chinese regulations.

Chinese leaders have moved vigorously in recent days to quell outrage over the blasts, which rattled top leaders and raised new questions about the safety of China's ambitious industrial zones.

On Wednesday, officials announced the chief of the State Administration of Work Safety had been removed from his post, and earlier this month they detained several other employees at Ruihai.

The announcement made it clear that the government's investigation was broadening to include public servants who were supposed to act as watchdogs.

Instead, prosecutors said, they often shirked their duties.

The blasts set off a furious public response. Local residents organised protests and demanded compensation for damaged homes, and environmental activists criticised the government's clean-up efforts.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 28, 2015, with the headline 'Tianjin blasts: 11 officials under probe'. Print Edition | Subscribe