China accuses former Bright Food Group chairman of embezzling $40.3 million

BEIJING (Reuters) - A court in eastern China has accused the former chairman of state-owned Bright Food Group of embezzling some 190 million yuan (S$40.3 million) and of accepting bribes, state media reported.

The allegations against Wang Zongnan relate to his time at state-owned companies Shanghai Friendship Group and Lianhua Supermarket Holdings. Wang was general manager at Shanghai Friendship Group and then at Lianhua Supermarket before becoming chairman at Bright Food in 2006 until his resignation for health reasons in 2013.

At a hearing in Shanghai, prosecutors accused Wang of embezzling 190 million yuan between 2000 and 2006, when he was chairman of Lianhua Supermarket, the official Xinhua news agency said late on Friday. The court also charged him with accepting 2.69 million yuan in bribes, the report added.

In 2003, Wang's parents bought two Shanghai villas for 2.1 million yuan, 2.7 million yuan less than the then market price, from a company subsidiary their son did an unspecified favour for in 2000, Xinhua said, without providing further details.

A verdict is expected later, it added.

While chairman of Bright Food, Wang helped put one of China's biggest food corporations on the global stage with several acquisitions, including a deal for the majority of Britain's Weetabix which valued the cereal maker at US$1.94 billion (S$2.5 billion).

Under Wang, Bright Food also bought into Australia's Manassen Foods and New Zealand's Synlait Milk Ltd.

It has not been possible to reach Wang for comment.

Wang's trial is the latest incident in a government anti-corruption campaign that has embroiled several senior state officials including a former security chief, and that has recently extended to executives at major state companies.