Death penalty for tycoon a warning for China officials

SHAFAQNA – The former head of a Chinese state-owned company who embezzled more than £35 million through illicit land deals has been sentenced to death by a court in Guangzhou. Zhang Xinhua, who ran a large agricultural conglomerate, had sent his family abroad, along with his ill-gotten gains, but could not escape what China calls an international “foxhunt” for corrupt officials and executives who have either fled abroad or laundered huge fortunes overseas. An increasing number of countries have agreed to assist China in its efforts, although Britain is not among them.

The pronouncement of the death penalty appears to fulfil a pledge made by President Xi Jinping that he would deploy all the might of the state in bringing down the “tigers” of corruption. It also offers a highly visible warning of the fate that might soon befall Zhou Yongkang, a man who once ranked among the most feared and powerful in the land.

The former domestic security tsar and member of the elite politburo standing committee, which controls China, has been accused by the Communist party of “massive corruption”, and branded a traitor by state media.

His trial is expected to be China’s most politically explosive in decades. After disappearing from public view more than a year ago, Mr Zhou is understood to have been at the heart of a behind-the-scenes power struggle within the party as rival interests rowed over how to deal with him.

That debate now appears to have ended, and a list of lurid allegations against Mr Zhou were published last week by the state news agency. The Communist party’s main mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, has published a cartoon of Mr Zhou as a tiger-human hybrid with a noose around his neck.

Corruption is a capital crime in China. The country’s justice system, according to human rights groups, executes more people every year than the rest of the world combined, but the ultimate penalty has been only rarely applied to high-ranking officials.

However, as Mr Xi intensifies the anti-corruption campaign and turns its focus on state-owned industries, analysts suspect that more death penalties will be applied in corruption cases with especially vast sums of money involved.

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