A Beijing court has given a suspended death sentence to former railways minister Liu Zhijun, the man behind one of the most expensive railway modernization project in recent history, for his part in a corruption scandal, China’s state media reported on Monday.
Liu is the first top official to be jailed since the start of President Xi Jinping’s campaign to fight against corruption, targeting both “tigers” and “flies,” referring to officials at all levels of the Communist party hierarchy. Ending one of the country’s highest profile corruption cases in years, his sentence of “death penalty with a two-year reprieve” generally means life in prison.
Liu stood trial at Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court on 9 June for accepting 64.6 million yuan ($10.53 million) in bribes between 1986 and 2011 and using his position to help 11 people win promotions or lucrative contracts, according to Xinhua. The court said his corrupt tenure “inflicted colossal losses in the public assets, violating rights and interests of the state and the people.”
The court also “deprived his political right for life and confiscated all his personal property,” the state newswire Xinhua reported. At the end of the trial, the former minister broke down in tears. While reading his final statement, Liu apologized for diverging from his goal of modernizing the country’s rail system and achieving the “Chinese dream.”
“Prosecutors said Liu had a very good attitude in confession and a strong desire to repent,” according to Xinhua. Suspended death sentences in China are usually commuted to life imprisonment, according to The Guardian. The court’s verdict will require Liu to spend at least 10 years in jail.
Liu had been a rail official for most of his life, studying transport management and holding several senior posts before he became minister in 2003. Analysts say Liu’s ruthless efficiency earned him the protection of higher party officials, allowing his corruption to go unchecked. However, he was sacked as railway minister in after eight years in office.
In 2011, a high-speed train crashed in the coastal city of Wenzhou, killing 40 people. Liu was singled out as one of the disaster’s primary culprits, and investigation ensued. The Beijing Times reported that investigations into Liu recovered 16 cars and more than 350 flats. He had 18 mistresses “including actresses, nurses and train stewards,” according to state-run Global Times’ report in 2011.
Xi Jinping’s led government got rid of the railway ministry in March, with its administrative functions handed to the transport ministry and its commercial role to the China Railway Corporation.