China sentences former executive to 18 years in jail: Xinhua

BEIJING (REUTERS) - A court in Shanghai in eastern China has sentenced Wang Zongnan, former chairman of state-owned Bright Food Group Co, to 18 years in jail for embezzlement and bribery, the official Xinhua News Agency reported on Tuesday.

While Wang led state-owned companies Shanghai Friendship Group Co and Lianhua Supermarket Holdings from 2001 to 2006, he embezzled more than 195 million yuan (S$43 million) to set up companies to invest in properties for personal gain, Xinhua said in its report on the court proceedings. Wang illegally earned more than 1.2 million yuan, it also said.

The court also found Wang accepted more than 2.69 million yuan in bribes, Xinhua said in its report.

Wang, who was officially charged last August, was one of China's most high profile state executives. At Bright Food, Wang helped put the government-owned group on the global map with several acquisitions, including the 2012 acquisition of a majority stake in British cereal maker Weetabix.

Wang's case is an example of the Chinese government's crackdown on corruption.

In addition to sentencing Wang to 18 years in prison, the court also seized 1 million yuan in personal assets and ordered Wang to return more than 12 million yuan in illegal income.

Wang could not be reached for comment. Shanghai Bright, Shanghai Friendship, now Shanghai Bailian Group, and Lianhua Supermarket did not respond to telephone calls requesting comment.

Xinhua's report on the court proceedings said Fosun Group, a subsidiary of Chinese investment company Fosun International Ltd , was named by the court. In 2003, Wang's parents bought two villas in Shanghai developed by Fosun at below market prices, Xinhua's report said.

The villas, which were purchased for 2.08 million yuan in total, were sold for 14.8 million yuan several years later, Xinhua said.

The court also found Wang used his position to seek benefits for Fosun Group after Friendship Group set up a joint entity with Shanghai Fosun High Technology (Group) Co, a Fosun subsidiary, Xinhua said in its report on the court proceedings.

In an emailed statement on Tuesday, Fosun said it "never sought to inappropriately benefit from cooperation with Friendship Group and never delivered benefits to Wang Zongnan."

Fosun also said it believed the sale price of the villas was appropriately discounted.