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Disgraced Chinese railway official given suspended death penalty

By Paul Armstrong, CNN
July 8, 2013 -- Updated 0639 GMT (1439 HKT)
Liu Zhijun was one of a number of officials linked to a deadly high-speed rail crash in July, 2011.
Liu Zhijun was one of a number of officials linked to a deadly high-speed rail crash in July, 2011.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Liu Zhijun, 60, was sentenced by Beijing court to death with a two-year reprieve
  • The former railways minister was found guilty of bribery and abuse of power
  • Liu was one of 54 officials linked to a 2011 train crash that killed 40 people
  • Report found major design flaws in train operating equipment, relaxed safety controls

Hong Kong (CNN) -- The former head of China's state railway system, once described in state media as "morally corrupted," has received a suspended death sentence for bribery and abuse of power.

Liu Zhijun, 60, was sentenced by the Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People's Court Monday to death with a two-year reprieve, deprived of his political rights for life and had all his personal property confiscated, the state-run Xinhua news agency said. He was also sentenced to 10 years in jail for abuse of power.

Though Liu's crimes carry the death penalty under Chinese law, it's thought his confession and subsequent cooperation influenced the court's decision to commute his sentence, state-media reported.

From 1986 to 2011, the court said Liu took advantage of his positions at local railway authorities and then as railways minister to help 11 people win lucrative government contracts. He reportedly accepted 64.6 million yuan (US$10.5 million) in bribes from them during this period, Xinhua said.

Liu was also accused of breaking regulations and applying favoritism, which allowed people such as Ding Yuxin, chairman of Beijing Boyou Investment Management Corporation, and her relatives to reap huge profits and inflict "colossal losses" on public assets, thus "violating rights and interests of the state and the people," Xinhua said.

Liu, who was appointed to the Railways Ministry in 2003, was responsible for the rapid expansion of China's rail infrastructure, particularly its high-speed network. He won widespread acclaim for his role until his arrest on corruption charges in February 2011.

Then in July that year, he was named as one of 54 officials linked to a 2011 train crash in the eastern city of Wenzhou that killed 40 people. In the wake of the collision of two high-speed trains, which also injured 172 people according to government figures, many in China expressed fury at the government. Some alleged corruption and efforts to cover up the tragedy -- charges the government denied.

However, a subsequent report found that major design flaws in train operating equipment, relaxed safety controls and poor emergency response to equipment failure caused the crash, Xinhua said.

Liu and the Railway Ministry's deputy chief engineer, Zhang Shuguang were held chiefly responsible for the crash, along with Ma Cheng, chairman of the board at China Railway Signal and Communication Corp., the producer of the railway signaling system.

Meanwhile, Monday's court sentence was criticized on social media, with some expressing frustration with President Xi Jinping's vow to cut down on corruption by clamping down on officials. One post from @Ziyeyu88 on Weibo, China's Twitter-like service, read: "The new leadership is nothing new! This is the so-called anti-corruption! It's still suspended death penalty after taking this much bribe!"

Another, named @Meiyingqishi655, posted: "People can be as much corrupted as possible in China. They won't die anyway."

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