China chief suspended over cop's drinking death

AP News
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Posted: Dec 16, 2009 12:16 AM

A Chinese police chief has been suspended after saying that a subordinate who died after binge drinking at an official banquet was killed in the line of duty _ a designation that would have made the man's family eligible for greater compensation.

Xie Feiyong, director of the traffic bureau in Shenzhen, took Chen Lusheng and other off-duty officers to a banquet with local officials where Chen vomited after rounds of toasts, passed out and suffocated, the official Xinhua News Agency reported late Tuesday.

Heavy drinking at business and government functions is common in many parts of China, where "Gan bei," or "Bottoms up," is the official toast. Many of the banquets are covered by government funds.

Xie was suspended indefinitely this week after he called for Chen to be designated a martyr _ someone who died in the line of duty _ so that his relatives would be eligible for more compensation, Xinhua said.

Chen's family would be eligible for up to 650,000 yuan ($95,000) in compensation under that designation, though the family is reportedly pressuring the government for at least 4.8 million yuan ($700,000), the China Daily newspaper reported Monday.

A spokeswoman for the Shenzhen police, who gave only his surname, Zhao, had no immediate comment.

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Excessive drinking at official functions is common in China and deaths are not unheard of.

Last month, a Communist Party official in eastern Anhui province died from alcohol poisoning after drinking heavily while entertaining business associates during an official banquet.

Two government officials in southern China died in separate incidents earlier this year after they fell into comas following official banquets that involved excessive drinking.

Chinese academics have estimated that government officials spend about 500 billion yuan ($73 billion) in public funds each year on official banquets, nearly one-third of the nation's expenses on dining out.