China executes ex-banker Lai Xiaomin in bribes, bigamy case

Lai Xiaomin (centre) was alleged to have used his position to embezzle more than 25 million yuan (S$5.2 million) in public funds. PHOTO: AFP/SECOND INTERMEDIATE PEOPLE’S COURT OF TIANJIN

BEIJING (AFP) - China on Friday (Jan 29) executed a former top banker accused of taking US$260 million (S$344.9 million) worth of bribes, as well as other forms of corruption and bigamy, state broadcaster CCTV reported.

Lai Xiaomin, the former chairman of Huarong - one of China's largest state-controlled asset management firms - was put to death by a court in the northern city of Tianjin, CCTV said.

"The amount of bribes received by Lai Xiaomin was extremely large, the crime's circumstances were particularly serious and the social impact was particularly severe," CCTV quoted the Chinese Supreme People's Court, which reviewed and approved the execution order, as saying.

The report did not specify how Lai was executed, but said he was allowed to see close relatives before his death.

Chinese courts have a conviction rate of over 99 per cent, and it is extremely rare for a death sentence to be overturned.

The number of executions carried out annually is considered a state secret, but rights group Amnesty International estimates the country executes the most people globally, with thousands put to death each year.

Luxury cars, gold bars

Lai was convicted and sentenced earlier this month. The Tianjin court ruled that he had shown "extreme malicious intent" and abused his position to obtain vast sums of money.

He was also found guilty of bigamy after living with a woman "as man and wife for long periods" outside of his marriage and fathering illegitimate children.

Lai was alleged to have used his position to embezzle more than 25 million yuan (S$5.2 million) in public funds between 2009 and 2018.

His fall from grace began in April 2018 when investigators removed him from his job and stripped him of his Communist Party position.

He had previously worked in the central bank and the China Banking Regulatory Commission.

Lai gave a televised confession to CCTV last year, which included footage of cabinets stuffed with cash in a Beijing apartment allegedly belonging to him, as well as luxury cars and gold bars which he allegedly accepted as bribes.

It is common practice for CCTV to air "confessions" by criminal suspects, including former officials, before they have appeared in court - condemned by rights groups as coercive.

Lai's downfall has been one of China's biggest financial crime cases, and comes as Beijing takes an increasingly tough stance on corporate wrongdoing.

At the same time, a wide-ranging anti-corruption campaign launched under President Xi Jinping has also served as a way to target his opponents and those of the Communist Party leadership, critics say.

The former real estate tycoon Ren Zhiqiang was jailed for 18 years last year after writing an essay critical of Mr Xi, and billionaire Xiao Jianhua was abducted from Hong Kong by Chinese agents in 2017 after regulators launched an investigation into his sprawling investment empire, Tomorrow Group.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.