Graft trial opens of former China railways minister

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 08, 2013 10:41 PM
Graft trial opens of former China railways minister

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's former railways minister, Liu Zhijun, went on trial on Sunday charged with corruption and abuse of power, state media said, in a case demonstrating President Xi Jinping's resolve to crack down on pervasive graft.

State radio said the trial had begun at a Beijing courthouse under heavy security. If found guilty, he could face the death penalty or life in jail.

Liu was formally charged in April with abuse of power, taking bribes and malpractice.

He took advantage of his position and helped 11 people to either get promotions or win contracts, accepting 64.6 million yuan ($10.53 million) in bribes from them in return between 1986 and 2011, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

While railways minister, Liu helped Ding Yuxin, the chairwoman of a Beijing investment company, and her relatives win cargo and railway construction contracts, "breaking regulations and playing favoritism" to allow Ding and her family to "reap huge profits", the report added.

"Liu's malpractices have led to huge losses of public assets and of the interests of the state and people, and he should be subject to criminal liabilities for bribe taking and abuse of power," Xinhua said.

State television showed pictures of a downcast Liu standing in the dock answering questions and looking at a screen upon which evidence against him was being displayed.

The trial may be over quite quickly, judging by similar graft cases in the past, and the verdict will likely come out within the next two weeks or so.

While Xi has said anti-corruption efforts should target low-ranking "flies" as well as powerful "tigers", few high-ranking violators have been probed since Xi became president in March.

China's railway system has faced numerous problems over the past few years, including heavy debts from funding new high-speed lines, waste and fraud.

The government has pledged to open the rail industry to private investment on an unprecedented scale.

The ministry suffered a big blow to its image when a crash in 2011 between two high-speed trains killed 40 people.

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Liu was sacked in February last year and later expelled from the Communist Party. He had successfully resisted a merger with the Ministry of Transport six years ago, but the government announced in March that the two ministries would be merged.

While Liu's case attracted much attention when it first broke, it has been overshadowed by the much more sensational case of the former party chief of Chongqing, the ambitious Bo Xilai.

Bo's downfall last year amid lurid accusations of murder and diplomatic intrigue caused division and uncertainty as the party prepared a transfer of power to a new generation of leaders.

The government has yet to announce a trial date for Bo, or what charges he will face.

($1 = 6.1335 Chinese yuan)

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Ron Popeski and Jeremy Laurence)