Suspended death for China ex-minister's 'huge' bribery

BEIJING (AFP) - China's former railways minister Liu Zhijun was given a suspended death sentence on Monday for "especially huge" bribery, becoming the highest-ranking official to be punished for corruption since new leaders vowed to clean up the ruling Communist Party.

Once hailed as the "father" of China's flagship high-speed rail network, Liu, 60, was convicted of bribery and abuse of power by a court in Beijing, the official Xinhua news agency said.

State television showed the diminutive, bespectacled defendant standing impassively in the dock in a dark jacket, flanked by two police.

Liu was sacked as railways minister in 2011 after eight years in the post, and the scandal surrounding him is reported to have involved as much as 800 million yuan (S$ 167 million).

He was convicted of accepting 64.6 million yuan in bribes to help 11 people secure contracts and promotions.

The No 2 Intermediate People's Court held that Liu's crimes involved an "especially huge amount of money" and "caused colossal losses in the public assets, violating rights and interests of the state and the people", Xinhua said.

"Liu Zhijun was sentenced to the death penalty with two years' suspension," a court official said.

Suspended death sentences in China are normally commuted to life imprisonment.

Under Chinese law capital punishment can be imposed for taking bribes exceeding 100,000 yuan.

The court found that Liu's offences deserved execution, but he was granted leniency because he had confessed, shown repentance and helped investigators recover assets, Xinhua said.

The court ordered all of Liu's personal property to be confiscated and issued a separate sentence of 10 years in prison for abuse of power, Xinhua said.