. China News .

Suspended death for China ex-minister's 'huge' bribery
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) July 08, 2013

Russia charges former Moscow official with stealing $320 million
Moscow (UPI) Jul 9, 2013 - Former Moscow regional finance minister Alexei Kuznetsov has been charged with stealing nearly $320 million, Russian investigators announced during the weekend.

Vladimir Markin, spokesman for the Russian Federal Investigative Committee, alleged Sunday that Kuznetsov -- arrested Friday in Toulon, France -- was the leader of a criminal gang that embezzled $105 million from Moscow-area municipalities and a further $215 million from the quasi-public regional development company Mosobltransinvest.

A statement issued by Markin alleged that from November 2005 to November 2008, a gang led by Kuznetsov embezzled $105 million in municipal debt from various Moscow-area suburbs that had been legally assigned to the regional Finance Ministry.

In addition, "members of the gang also stole property belonging to JSC Mosobltransinvest amounting to [$215 million]," the statement said.

Russia, Markin said, will demand extradition of the ex-finance minister from France to Russia, where he is to be arraigned.

"[We] will take all measures to accelerate the completion of the investigation," he said.

And in comments aimed at Britain and other skeptics of Moscow's anti-corruption efforts, he also emphasized the prosecution is not politically motivated.

"For those who are trying to once again blame these consequences on some kind of political agenda, I want to remind them that the Investigative Committee has been and remains committed to just one public agenda -- on behalf of the people to fight corruption," he said.

Kuznetsov is accused of swindling the Moscow suburbs through a fraud scheme at a time when the region lost a combined $800 million and had to go through a selective default process in 2010 that adversely affected its credit rating, RIA Novosti reported.

The suburbs involved included the Chekhov, Klin, Khimki, Pushkin, Noginskogo, Luberets and Shatourskiy districts.

At the time, the default was blamed simply on mismanagement of funds, but a fraud investigation was later opened and Kuznetsov's deputy, Valery Nosov, last year was jailed for four years.

Markin said Sunday additional investigations of businesswoman Elena Kuznetsova -- Alexei Kuznetsov's sister -- and businessman Valery Telepneva in connection with the alleged scheme have also been completed and they remain on an Interpol wanted list.

Acting Moscow-area Gov. Andrei Vorobyov issued a statement Sunday asserting the money that was allegedly stolen by Kuznetsov should be returned to the regional budget.

"It's very painful for the region's history; it has lost a lot of money," he said. "The criminal case against a certain group of people are now actively under way. Our aim is to return all the money in the budget of the Moscow area, because we have plans and we believe that this money should be spent on development of the region."

Efforts have started to make whole bankrupt development businesses such as Mosobltransinvest, Vorobyov added.

"This is a very big job, and the links are part of one chain," he said. "We very much hope that we will be able to compensate for these losses, put together all the pieces and collect the money to be spent on our priorities, which we have plenty of."

China's former railways minister Liu Zhijun was given a suspended death sentence Monday for "especially huge" bribery, becoming the highest-ranking official to be punished for corruption since new leaders vowed to clean up the ruling Communist Party.

Once hailed as the "father" of China's flagship high-speed rail network, Liu, 60, was convicted of bribery and abuse of power by a court in Beijing, the official Xinhua news agency said.

State television showed the diminutive, bespectacled defendant standing impassively in the dock in a dark jacket, flanked by two police.

Liu was sacked as railways minister in 2011 after eight years in the post, and the scandal surrounding him is reported to have involved as much as 800 million yuan ($130 million).

He was convicted of accepting 64.6 million yuan in bribes to help 11 people secure contracts and promotions.

The No 2 Intermediate People's Court held that Liu's crimes involved an "especially huge amount of money" and "caused colossal losses in the public assets, violating rights and interests of the state and the people", Xinhua said.

"Liu Zhijun was sentenced to the death penalty with two years' suspension," a court official told AFP by phone.

Suspended death sentences in China are normally commuted to life imprisonment.

Under Chinese law capital punishment can be imposed for taking bribes exceeding 100,000 yuan.

The court found that Liu's offences deserved execution, but he was granted leniency because he had confessed, shown repentance and helped investigators recover assets, Xinhua said.

The court ordered all of Liu's personal property to be confiscated and issued a separate sentence of 10 years in prison for abuse of power, Xinhua said.

China's rail system -- which has cost hundreds of billions of dollars -- has been one of the ruling party's flagship development projects in recent years, and the country now boasts the world's longest high-speed network.

But a high-speed crash in the eastern city of Wenzhou killed some 40 people in 2011, sparking public criticism that authorities compromised safety in their rush to expand the network.

The railways ministry was disbanded in March, with its administrative functions handed to the transport ministry and its commercial role to a new China Railway Corporation.

The country's new leaders under President Xi Jinping have vowed to fight corruption, identifying it as a threat to Communist Party rule.

The issue causes widespread popular anger among ordinary Chinese, many of whom believe that the ruling elite are often not held accountable for wrongdoing.

In January Xi was quoted by state media as telling the party's corruption watchdog there would be "no leniency" for graft.

In May Xinhua reported that China was investigating a former top state planner Liu Tienan for alleged "serious disciplinary violations" -- phrasing that typically refers to corruption.

Bo Xilai, former party chief of the southwestern metropolis of Chongqing, is also expected to face trial for allegedly taking bribes and helping cover up his wife's murder of a British businessman.

Numerous low-level officials have come under investigation after social media users exposed alleged corruption, with some cases involving expensive watches or multiple mistresses.

Liu, a longtime railways official, studied transport management and held senior posts in several provinces before joining the national railways ministry in 1994 and rising to minister in 2003.

In a commentary Xinhua called Liu's sentence a "renewed alarm" that authorities under Xi's leadership were prepared to "punish any corrupt official", even the high-ranking.

But users of China's popular microblog service Sina Weibo were sceptical about the court's decision, with some condemning it as too lenient.

"Such good news for corrupt officials. This is encouraging them, because the worst result will just be a suspended death penalty," said one.

Another lamented: "Oh dear, now he's going to keep wasting taxpayers' money."


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