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China hands rare death sentence to ex-banker who took US$151 million in bribes

China hands rare death sentence to ex-banker who took US$151 million in bribes
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China hands rare death sentence to former senior banker for taking US$151 million in bribes

A court in eastern China delivered a rare death sentence on Tuesday, after finding that a former senior banker accepted bribes worth more than 1.1 billion yuan (US$151 million) in his role with one of the country’s top four state asset managers.

Bai Tianhui, former general manager of China Huarong International Holdings (CHIH), took advantage of his position to aid others in the acquisitions and financing of projects in exchange for the huge sums, the court found.

A report on the Secondary Intermediate People’s Court of Tianjin’s ruling by state broadcaster CCTV, did not say how Bai pleaded nor if he would be appealing the sentence.

While numerous officials have been caught up in China’s sweeping anti-corruption campaign since President Xi Jinping took power more than a decade ago, death sentences that are not suspended remain a rarity in corruption cases.

CHIH is an offshore unit of China Huarong Asset Management (CHAM). It was taken over by the Citic Group and renamed China Citic Financial Asset Management in January.

Bai is the second China Huarong official to receive a death sentence for corruption. In January 2021, the same court sentenced Lai Xiaomin, former chairman of CHAM – and Bai’s former boss – to a similar fate.

Lai, who was executed a month after his sentencing, was found guilty of taking 1.79 billion yuan (US$247 million) in bribes, embezzlement of public assets worth more than 25.13 million yuan (US$3.46 million), and bigamy.

Lai was the first official to receive the ultimate penalty for corruption since Xu Maiyong and Jiang Renjie – former mayors of the eastern cities of Hangzhou, in Zhejiang province, and Suzhou in Jiangsu, respectively, who were put to death in 2011.

According to the CCTV report, Tuesday’s court ruling also permanently stripped Bai of his political rights and ordered that all his personal property be confiscated.

The court acknowledged that Bai had volunteered information leading to other arrests and convictions. However, the bribes he had taken were “particularly huge” and the impacts of his crimes on society “particularly pernicious, causing … serious losses to the interests of the state and the people”.

Evidence presented against former China Huarong chairman Lai Xiaomin, who was executed in 2021, included bundles of cash found in his home. Photo: Xinhua

“Taking all these [factors] into account, [the court] ruled that [Bai] does not deserve a lighter sentence. Hence the death penalty verdict,” the ruling said.

Four other senior Huarong executives, including former chairman of Huarong Real Estate Wang Pinghua, and Qin Ling, who was chairman of Huarong Investment, are awaiting trial.

Guo Jintong, former deputy general manager of Huarong International Holdings, and Zhao Zichun, who held the same position at Huarong Guiyang Real Estate, are also expected to appear in court on charges of corruption.

A Beijing-based criminal lawyer, who declined to be named, said that he expects Bai to appeal on grounds of precedent, citing cases where defendants were given lesser sentences for similar offences.

Zhang Zhongsheng, former deputy mayor of Luliang in central China’s Shanxi province, was sentenced to death in March 2018 for accepting 1.17 billion yuan (US$161 million) in bribes – later suspended for two years and commuted to life imprisonment after an appeal in October 2021.

China’s top corruption watchdog, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), launched a sweeping crackdown on the finance sector this year, in response to Xi’s call to make the country a “financial superpower” and contain risks.

According to a tally by the South China Morning Post, the CCDI has detained more than 30 Chinese state regulators, bankers and senior financial executives since January, in response to Xi’s order to focus its efforts on the sector.

In a speech to the CCDI’s third plenary session in January, Xi warned about “prominent problems” such as “repeated financial disorders and corruption, and weak financial supervision and governance capacity”.

There should be “absolutely no mercy” in rooting out the “severe and complex” problem of corruption and fraud, Xi said.

Also in January, Xi laid out a road map for China to become a financial superpower with a focus on the real economy, while highlighting more urgent tasks in its efforts to defuse financial risks.

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