China's former railways minister Liu Zhijun was sentenced death penalty with a two-year reprieve in Beijing on Monday for bribery and abuse of power. (Xinhua)
BEIJING, July 8 (Xinhua) -- China's former railways minister Liu Zhijun was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve here on Monday for bribery and abuse of power.
As well as the suspended death sentence, the Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People's Court deprived the 60-year-old of his political rights for life and confiscated all his personal property for taking bribes. Liu was also sentenced to 10 years in jail for abuse of power, according to the court verdict.
The court found that from 1986 to 2011, Liu took advantage of his positions as an official of local railway bureaus as well as the former Ministry of Railways, and helped 11 people, including Shao Liping and Ding Yuxin, win promotions, project deals and cargo transportation contracts. He accepted 64.6 million yuan (10.53 million U.S. dollars) in bribes from them during this period.
While he was railways minister, Liu helped Ding and her relatives to win both cargo transportation and railway construction contracts. He also helped them in the acquisition of shares in a bullet train wheel set company and with enterprise financing by breaking regulations and applying favoritism. This allowed Ding and her family to reap huge profits.
The court held that Liu's crime of bribery involved a huge amount of money with especially serious circumstances. His crime of abuse of power had caused colossal losses in public assets, violating the rights and interests of the state and the people.
The court confirmed that Liu confessed to his crimes, and provided further clues of his bribery that were unknown to investigation organs. Most of Liu's bribed money and the majority of the economic losses caused by his abuse of power have been recovered.
Liu's crime of bribery, which violated the integrity of a state official's duty behavior and undermined the state functionary's reputation, should be given the death penalty. However, with his admission of guilt and repentance, Liu was given the death penalty with a reprieve, the court said.
The court said that although most of economic losses have been recovered, leniency will not be given regarding Liu's crime of power abuse, as it is especially serious in terms of both circumstances and consequences.
Bai Shanyun, the trial judge and vice president of Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People's Court, said the Second Branch of Beijing Municipal People's Procuratorate filed the charges against Liu with the court on April 10, 2013. The court later set up a collegial panel and opened the trial in public on June 9.
According to Article 386 and Clause one of Article 383 of the Criminal Law, such violators should be subjected to capital punishment, Bai said.
However, as there were circumstances that may warrant a lighter punishment, the court decided to hand down a sentence of a death penalty with a two-year reprieve.
Firstly, Liu confessed his crime, including some acts of bribe-taking that were unknown to investigators. Prosecutors and Liu's defense counsel had stated in the trial that according to relevant laws, such facts may warrant leniency.
The court also found that the eighth amendment to the Criminal Law and a judicial interpretation issued by the Supreme People's Court (SPC) allowed for a lighter punishment for such circumstances, Bai said.
Secondly, Bai said Liu and his family members had cooperated with investigators in confiscating the illegal gains.
According to an interpretation jointly issued by the SPC and the Supreme People's Procuratorate, such criminals may be given a lighter penalty, Bai said.
The document also stipulated that in bribe-taking-related cases where criminals and their families or friends have voluntarily surrendered the illegal gains or made cooperative efforts with law enforcers to confiscate such gains, the court should make a difference in its sentencing from those cases where there is no such behavior, the judge said.
Such behavior also demonstrated Liu's repentance that may call for a mitigated sentence, Bai said.
Furthermore, Liu also appeared to be cooperative when confessing and showed his penitence during the investigation, prosecution and trial procedures, Bai said.
Taking all the facts of the whole case and Liu's relevant behavior into consideration, the court holds that an immediate execution is not necessary, the judge said.
According to the trial, due to Liu's abuse of power, Ding Yuxin and other businesspeople raked in more than 3 billion yuan (489.3 million U.S. dollars) worth of profits. Judicial authorities, correspondingly, seized and froze large amounts of cash, stock shares, properties and pieces of art, among other assets owned by Ding and the other businesspeople, said Bai.
The seized and frozen assets included 374 properties and cash. However, they were not criminal gains of Liu, but illegal profits Ding and other businesspeople obtained through Liu's abuse of power, which highlighted the gravity of Liu's crime, Bai added.
Based on judicial authorities' assessment of the total value of these assets, the court found the majority of economic losses inflicted by Liu's abuse of power had been recovered.
However, considering Liu's especially serious crimes of power abuse and applying favoritism, the court did not mitigate his punishment, rather, sentenced him to 10 years in jail, a maximum sentence for the crime of power abuse, Bai said.
Previous media reports have revealed that a sum of 49 million yuan out of the total 64.6 million was spent by Ding to benefit Liu. It has raised controversy whether this part of the money should be regarded as bribes Liu received.
Bai confirmed that this was a disputed issue between the prosecution and the defence during the trial.
According to Bai, Liu told Ding to "grease the wheels" and handle other relevant affairs for him. Ding spent 49 million yuan to comply with Liu's orders.
"It is unlike an ordinary bribe-taking act that one receives bribes directly, as Liu has not directly possessed this money, and Liu's lawyers also argued that this act does not constitute a bribe-taking crime," Bai said.
However, evidence during the trial revealed that Liu had taken advantage of his positions to help Ding and her relatives obtain huge economic benefits. He also hinted to Ding to buy off relevant officials and people to free him of any implication in the case of He Hongda, a former senior official of the Railways Ministry investigated for corruption, as well as to create favorable conditions for him to secure a better position.
Liu confessed that he was fully aware beforehand that such manipulation may cost a lot of money, and Ding also informed him afterwards that she spent tens of millions of yuan to carry out his instructions, the judge said.
"Although Liu did not directly take this money, the money was used by Ding at the behest of Liu and for the benefits of Liu," Bai said.
Ding also gave a testimony confirming that she spent large amounts of money for Liu in return for Liu's help for her to reap huge profits, according to the judge.
Taking these facts into account, Liu's behavior should be deemed as a power-for-money deal, and the court finds that such acts constitute taking bribes.
The judge also noted that according to precedents in previous judicial cases, similar deals were all regarded as bribery crimes.
When explaining why the court appointed a lawyer to Liu who did not want one, Bai said according to article 32 and 34 of the Criminal Procedure Law and its judicial interpretation by the Supreme People's Court, in addition to exercising the right to defend oneself, the defendant can also entrust one or two people to defend him. The court should inform a legal aid center to appoint lawyers for the defendant who has not entrusted defenders but is likely to be sentenced to life imprisonment or the death penalty.
Bai said it had informed Liu of the right to entrusting defenders when giving him the duplicate copy of the indictment, but the defendant expressed clearly his unwillingness to do so. Liu also refused to ask his relatives to entrust people to defend him.
Charged with accepting more than 64 million yuan in bribes, Liu could be sentenced to life imprisonment or a more serious penalty in accordance with Chinese law.
Therefore, on condition of gaining Liu's consent, the legal aid center appointed two lawyers. The defense read the file of the case and met Liu several times before the trial, and lawyers argued for a lighter punishment defence at the trial based on the facts and evidence.
Media reports had questioned the trial procedure as the pretrial meeting took one day but the trial only proceeded for half a day.
Bai explained the functions of the pretrial meeting.
Bai said according to the amended criminal procedural law, judges can convene with prosecutors, defendants and defenders before the opening of a trial, to learn and discuss issues such as jurisdiction, avoidance, exclusion of illegal evidence, necessity of collecting new evidence if the case is complex and influential, and involves a lot of evidence.
In Liu's case, Bai said, the court called in the prosecutor, Liu and his defense to attend the pretrial meeting, soliciting both sides' opinions. Liu and his defense raised no opposition.
Therefore, on the courtday, Bai said prosecutors simplified evidence presentation procedures. Besides, except that Liu's defenders challenged whether the 49 million yuan should be considered as Liu's bribery, Liu and his defense showed no opposition to the evidence collection methods that prosecutors adopted. Also, Liu admitted all the facts of his crime of taking bribes and power abuse, raising no further allegations. All these made the half-day trial possible.