Last updated: July 8, 2013 6:19 am

China ex-rail chief given suspended death sentence for corruption

Liu Zhijun was convicted for taking $10.53m in bribes©Getty

Liu Zhijun was convicted for taking $10.53m in bribes

China has handed down the most significant corruption sentence in more than five years in a case seen as a test of how far the new leadership will go in fighting graft.

Liu Zhijun, former railway minister, was given a suspended death sentence for bribery and abuse of power on Monday, state media said.

Mr Liu was removed from the railway ministry more than two years ago under the government of Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao, who retired in March, but the ruling comes as Mr Hu’s successor, President Xi Jinping, has made an anti-corruption campaign a cornerstone of his rule. Many independent observers have dismissed the campaign as one of many attempts by the ruling Communist party to improve its image without making substantial changes that could endanger its monopoly on power.

The former railway minister’s case has been overshadowed by the fall of Bo Xilai, the populist former party secretary of the western municipality of Chongqing and aspirant to a senior leadership seat, which threw the party into its most severe power struggle in two decades.

Mr Bo was sacked last year following the dramatic flight of his former police chief to a US consulate and the prosecution of his wife for involvement in the murder of Neil Heywood, a former British business associate. When the Communist party’s internal discipline watchdog wrapped up its investigation of Mr Bo last September, it accused him of a long list of corruption-related crimes throughout his entire political career. However, Mr Bo has yet to be formally tried in a court.

Mr Liu is the most senior official to be convicted of corruption since Chen Liangyu, former Communist party secretary of Shanghai and a member of the party’s politburo, was given an 18-year prison term on corruption charges in April 2008. The former minister’s sentence is the toughest in a corruption case against a cabinet official since the head of the state drug administration was sentenced to death in 2007.

Mr Liu took Rmb64.4m ($10.53m) in bribes for helping 11 people win contracts or get promotions between 1986 and 2011, said Xinhua, the official news agency.

The railway ministry had been shaken by a number of problems in recent years, including a high-speed rail crash in 2011 which killed 40 people. But it was only in March this year, shortly before Mr Liu’s formal indictment, that the government moved on long-delayed plans to break up the ministry into a company running rail services and a government department acting as a regulator.

Chinese law allows the death penalty against people convicted of taking bribes of more than Rmb100,000. Death sentences with a two-year reprieve like the one given to Mr Liu are often converted to life in prison.

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