Crime and punishment for corrupt officials

Updated: 2013-08-29 08:14

By Ji Zhebu in Beijing (China Daily)

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Crime and punishment for corrupt officials

This screen grab shows Liu Zhijun, the former railways minister, who received a suspended death sentence in July. Provided to China Daily

The trial of former Chongqing Party chief Bo Xilai, the verdict of which is to be announced at a later date, has fueled public debate about the punishments that should be meted out to corrupt officials.

According to a recent study by Tian Guoliang, a professor with the Party School of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, since the 1980s, 103 officials at the level of vice-minister or above have been tried in court. Around 80 percent were found guilty of bribery and embezzlement. Of those, six were sentenced to death, 27 were given suspended death sentences, 17 were sentenced to life imprisonment, and a further 44 were given sentences of varying lengths.

Chinese criminal law states that anyone who embezzles more than 100,000 yuan ($16,340) can be sentenced to death if the court deems the offense serious enough. Tian's survey shows that the suspended death sentence and life imprisonment account for a high proportion of the sentences handed down to corrupt officials.

The law is too lenient on officials who have accepted large bribes or embezzled large sums of money, said Hu Bensheng, a sales manager at a State-owned enterprise in Beijing. He cited the example of Liu Zhijun, the former railways minister, who was found guilty of accepting bribes of more than 60 million yuan. Liu escaped the ultimate punishment, but was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve.

Hu's opinion was shared by a large number of users of social networking sites such as Sina Weibo, China's most popular micro-blogging service, and WeChat, an instant-chat platform.

The discussions focused not only on the sentences handed down to corrupt officials, but also on the time they actually spend in prison.

"Corrupt officials who deserve the death sentence should all be executed by shooting. Otherwise, they will find a way to save their lives with the money they have embezzled," wrote a commentator called Zou Xingyu on Tencent Weibo, another popular micro-blogging site.

"The people will be bitterly disappointed if the courts do not punish corrupt officials to the full extent of the law. Once the rulers lose the support of the people, they will lose the world," wrote another micro-blogger, who used the pseudonym "Breeze Over The Lotus Pond."

"The general public has a reason to demand severe punishments for corrupt government officials, because, in practice, only a small number of them receive heavy sentences. The majority are punished mildly after they confess their crimes or hand back part of the illicit money to the investigators," said Liu Xiaoyuan, a lawyer from Beijing Fengrui Law Firm.

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