China jails health official for 19 years for taking bribes, embezzling more than $955k

SHANGHAI (AFP) - A Chinese court has sentenced a health official in commercial hub Shanghai to 19 years' jail after he accepted bribes and embezzled more than 4.4 million yuan (S$955,500), state media said.

The Shanghai Number One Intermediate People's Court on Sunday sentenced Huang Fengping, former deputy director for the Shanghai Municipal Commission of Health and Family Planning, the official Xinhua news agency said.

Media reports have previously linked his case to British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline, which China fined 3 billion yuan last year for giving bribes, but the Shanghai court made no public mention of GSK.

Huang accepted more than 3 million yuan in bribes and embezzled over 1.4 million yuan, Xinhua said, adding he was unable to account for 11 million yuan in assets.

China's health-care sector is widely considered to be riddled with graft, partly the result of an opaque tendering system for drugs, and also due to doctors' low salaries.

The Shanghai Daily newspaper said Huang was found to have more than 400 envelopes stuffed with cash in his home as well as gold bars and foreign currency in the trunk of his car. The police arrested him in December 2013.

A neurosurgeon by training, Huang took advantage of his positions - which also included vice-president of Shanghai's Huashan Hospital and head of an industry association - by accepting bribes from pharmaceutical companies to promote their products, reports said.

In 2014, a Chinese court found GSK had used bribery to boost sales and took kickbacks from travel agencies to organise conferences that never took place, according to previous reports by state media.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has touted a crackdown on corruption since assuming the Communist Party's top post in 2012, targeting both high-level "tigers" and low-level "flies".