China to try 58 accused of covering up mine deaths

AP News
Posted: Nov 30, 2009 9:31 AM

Dozens of local Chinese officials and reporters have been charged with bribery in the cover-up of a coal mine accident that killed 35 people just weeks before the Beijing Olympics, a newspaper reported Monday.

Officials in Hebei province's Yuxian county paid journalists a total of 2.6 million yuan ($380,000) not to report the July 14, 2008, accident, in which 34 miners and one rescuer were killed, the China Daily said.

In addition to bribing reporters, officials silenced relatives of the dead with large compensation payments and threats of retribution if they talked, the paper said. The measures managed to keep the accident silent for 85 days, the paper said, without saying how it eventually became known.

It's fairly common for officials to pay such bribes to keep higher ranking leaders from finding out about disasters and to avoid being fired or handed demerits. Often the payments are disguised as advertising buys or subscription fees.

Yuxian officials had even more reason to keep the accident silent because it struck just three weeks before the Beijing Olympic Games in the midst of a national safety campaign, when the central government was bent on painting only the most positive picture of China to the world.

Ten reporters and 48 officials, including policemen, work safety officers and the head of the county government, face charges of paying or taking bribes, the China Daily said, citing the results of a probe ordered by the State Council, China's Cabinet.

The report is just the latest pointing to bribery and cover-ups in China's sprawling and accident-prone coal industry, which is the deadliest in the world. Such practices sometimes take the form of blackmail, with reporters threatening to reveal accidents unless they are paid off.

Bribery in China is punished on a sliding scale, with the size of the bribe and the seriousness of the outcome both taken into consideration. Punishments range from the death penalty to suspended prison sentences.