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Ultimate Penalty in Graft Case

A Chinese businessman is executed for a murder plot, but the big story may be shady deals and Beijing's bid to make a grim example of him.

July 08, 2006|Don Lee | Times Staff Writer

LIAOYANG, China — In the end, Yuan Baojing's wealth couldn't save his life but merely ensured a less messy execution.

On a windy March morning, Yuan was sentenced to death for his alleged involvement in the killing of a local policeman. Only six months earlier, authorities had given the corporate raider a reprieve after, by some accounts, his wife promised to surrender $6 billion in oil company stock to the state.

Yuan, dressed in white, appeared stunned when the latest verdict was read. "I can't accept this. I have information to expose others," the 40-year-old shouted as he was led out of the courthouse by helmeted police and into a black van.

Three miles outside the city, the van pulled into the gates of the Liaoyang Funeral Home, where Yuan was shoved into a police van outfitted with a bed and a computer, according to a person at the scene. Two injections were pumped into Yuan. The first paralyzed him; the second stopped his beating heart.

Just three hours after the death sentence, authorities delivered the ashes from Yuan's cremated body to his wife, according to the witness and local Chinese media. She also got a bill for $2,500 -- the cost of the lethal injection that replaced the cheaper and more common form of execution here: a bullet to the back of the head.

Legal experts and residents here say Yuan's execution is a tale of China's modern-day scourge: corruption.

Chinese President Hu Jintao said June 30 that graft was threatening the Communist Party's grip on power. Hu called for a renewed crackdown in the wake of several high-level scandals. He decried "continued cases of leading officials abusing power for private gain, engaging in graft, bending the law and falling into corruption."

In one recent case, Beijing Vice Mayor Liu Zhihua -- who was in charge of the $40-billion building project for the 2008 Olympics -- was fired "because of his corrupt and degenerate ways," China's Xinhua news agency reported. In another scandal, Vice Adm. Wang Shouye, a top commander in China's navy, was stripped of his post and his seat in parliament.

In the last few years, anti-graft enforcers have taken action against thousands of corrupt party officials for accepting bribes from developers and others for land and jobs. China has sought to make examples of some officials by executing them, but corruption remains largely unbridled.

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People in this northeastern city say Yuan's is a classic case of graft.

Many here say Yuan was in league with corrupt officials. The former Liaoyang police officer whom Yuan was accused of conspiring to have killed had alleged that a large state-owned company in the city funneled ill-gotten money to Yuan that allowed him to invest and become rich.

Yuan's attorney, Wu Ming'an, said he had no knowledge of that. He said his client insisted that he was framed. Weeks before he was executed, Yuan told his lawyer in a tape-recorded session that Liaoyang officials had sought him out a few years earlier for a favor.

Yuan claimed that provincial law enforcement and Communist Party officials were under investigation by the central government for corruption, Wu said, and that they wanted Yuan to use his connections with Beijing to help them.

Wu said Yuan recounted how his troubles began when he refused.

Wu, a prominent criminal attorney in Beijing, said he had prepared files containing these allegations and had given them to Yuan's wife to submit to the central government. But the lawyer said he did not know whether the claims were investigated.

Here in the northeast, corrupt party officials have a reputation for being more brazen than elsewhere in the nation, partly because the economy has not kept pace with the rest of China. Local media are chock-full of stories about party cadres who take millions of dollars in bribes, officials convicted for selling government jobs and mafia bosses in cahoots with judges.

People still talk about organized crime chieftain Liu Yong, who was spared his 2003 death sentence -- for murder and other crimes -- by Liaoning province's high-court judges, who gave no reason for his reprieve. Beijing later overturned the ruling and Liu was executed.

No one here can say what role, if any, Beijing played in Yuan's reprieve and execution. But many people say they were shocked at how quickly authorities executed Yuan.

"If the criminal says he has more information to expose others, usually the execution should be suspended," said Li Jian, founder of the Civil Rights Defense Net, a human rights group in Dalian in Liaoning province. "The court should at least hear what he wanted to say before the execution. What are we ordinary people to think?"

Indeed, Yuan's case has raised many questions: Was he as rich as media reports portrayed him? And why did state officials grant him a pardon only to rescind it?

Beijing and provincial authorities declined to talk about the case. Chinese journalists who covered Yuan's trial say their bosses in the state-run media have ordered them to stop reporting on it.

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