China ex-minister seeks no execution pledge: Report

BEIJING (AFP) - A Chinese former minister facing corruption charges involving millions of dollars changed lawyers after his attorney could not guarantee he would escape execution for his crimes, media reported on Thursday.

Former railways minister Liu Zhijun has been accused of bribery and abuse of power, the official Xinhua news agency said on Wednesday, without giving details of the charges.

"He asked me to guarantee that he would not face the death penalty, but I couldn't do that," Liu's family lawyer Gao Zicheng was quoted by the Beijing Times newspaper as saying.

Liu later decided to use a different legal representative, the report said, adding that he was accused of taking bribes worth 60 million yuan (S$12 million) linked to rail construction projects.

The minister allegedly collaborated with railway supplier Ding Shumiao, who is said to be a close friend, to generate "illegal profits" worth three billion yuan, the report said.

Under Chinese criminal law, the death penalty can be imposed for taking bribes exceeding 100,000 yuan.

The indictment accuses Liu of taking advantage of his position as a government official to accept what Xinhua described as "financial incentives from others, which were of a huge amount".

China's rail system - which has cost hundreds of billions of dollars - has been one of its flagship development projects in recent years, and it now boasts the world's longest high-speed network.

But a high-speed crash in the eastern city of Wenzhou killed some 40 people in 2011, sparking a torrent of public criticism that authorities compromised safety in their rush to expand the network.

Party leaders have made tackling corruption a key policy, with new President Xi Jinping recently being quoted by state media telling the party's corruption watchdog that there would be "no leniency" for wrongdoing.

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