Shaanxi party boss given suspended death sentence for graft

Zhao Zhengyong was given a two-year suspended death sentence, after which his term could be reduced to life in prison. PHOTO: WIKIPEDIA

BEIJING - President Xi Jinping's sweeping anti-graft campaign has claimed a major scalp with the former party chief of northwestern Shaanxi province being sentenced to death for pocketing more than $140 million in bribes.

Zhao Zhengyong was given a two-year suspended death sentence on Friday (July 31), after which his term could be reduced to life in prison, ruled a court in Tianjin.

He was said to have used his official position to obtain bribes between 2003 and 2018 from businessmen looking for big project deals such as those in energy and property development, and people seeking job promotions.

Prosecutors said he took bribes of more than 717 million yuan (S$141 million), including 100 million in property and stocks - said to be the largest amount in a corruption case since President Xi clamped down on graft after taking power in 2012.

"Zhao's behaviour constitutes a crime of bribery and he should be sentenced to death, because the amount of bribes he accepted was extremely large and what he did brought extremely great losses to the country and the people," Chinese state media reported the court saying in its ruling.

"But given that he pleaded guilty and all his illicit gains were seized or frozen, we gave him a suspended death sentence as a lenient punishment."

More than 630 million yuan in cash and assets were seized by the authorities, as well as 100 million in property and stocks.

Zhao, 69, a native of Anhui, became vice governor of Shaanxi, which has a population of 37 million, in 2005 and governor in 2010.

In 2012, he was promoted to party secretary of the province, taking over from Zhao Leji who was later appointed by President Xi Jinping as head of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the top anti-corruption body in China.

Zhao stepped down as Shaanxi party boss in 2016.

He was arrested last year, a week after state broadcaster CCTV aired a programme showing Shaanxi officials criticising an unnamed leader for not carrying out President Xi's orders to tear down hundreds of illegally-built villas in a nature reserve.

Zhao, who was expelled from the Communist Party in January, is not appealing his sentence.

Former culture and tourism vice-minister Li Jinzao was also put under investigation on Wednesday for "serious violations", said the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, without giving details.

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