China sentences ex-banker to death for bribery, bigamy


BEIJING (AFP): The former chairman of one of China's largest state-controlled asset management firms was sentenced to death Tuesday for soliciting US$260mil (more than RM1bil) in bribes, corruption, and also bigamy.

Lai Xiaomin, a former Communist Party member, gave a detailed televised confession on state broadcaster CCTV last January, which showed footage of safes and cabinets stuffed with cash in a Beijing apartment allegedly belonging to him.

Lai had abused his position in attempting to obtain the vast sum, a court in the northern city of Tianjin said, describing the bribes as "extremely large" and labelling the circumstances "particularly serious".

He had shown "extreme malicious intent," the court ruling added.

The former chairman of the Hong Kong-listed China Huarong Asset Management Co. - a distressed debt group - was also found guilty of bigamy after living with a woman "as man and wife for long periods" outside of his marriage and fathering illegitimate children.

Huarong is one of four companies set up in 1999 to help clean up bad debt piles choking China's banking system, and the company later expanded into investment, loan and property businesses.

Lai's downfall began in April 2018 as investigators removed him from his job and stripped him of his party position.

He was also alleged to have used his position to embezzle over 25 million yuan (US$3.8mil) in public funds between 2009 and 2018.

During his TV confession, Lai said he "did not spend a single penny, and just kept it there... I did not dare to spend it."

He had referred to the apartment where he kept the money as the "supermarket", given his regular visits there to deposit cash.

Luxury cars, gold bars

CCTV showed luxury cars and gold bars reportedly accepted as bribes by Lai, who worked in the central bank and the China Banking Regulatory Commission prior to his leadership roles in Huarong.

The channel often broadcasts interviews with suspects admitting to crimes before they have appeared in court - a practice that has long been condemned by lawyers and rights organisations as forcing confessions under duress.

The court said Lai would have all personal assets confiscated and be stripped of his political rights.

Photos published by the court showed Lai standing up and facing the judge to be sentenced, flanked by two police officers wearing face masks.

The sentencing brings an end to one of the country's biggest financial crime cases, and comes as Beijing takes an increasingly tough stance on corporate wrongdoing.

Critics say the wide-ranging anti-corruption campaign launched under President Xi Jinping has also served as a way to target his opponents and those of the Communist Party leadership.

Since Xi came to power, many high ranking officials have been jailed, although only one is known to have been executed - Zhao Liping, who was convicted of homicide in 2016.

China keeps data on its use of the death penalty secret, although rights group Amnesty International estimates the country is the top executioner globally - with thousands executed and sentenced to death each year.

Three other senior Communist Party members have been sentenced to death but later given a reprieve.

The former head of Interpol, an ex-spy chief and a Xinjiang governor accused of "trading power for sex", are some of the other high-profile officials to suffer spectacular falls from grace in recent years in the anti-corruption purge. - AFP

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