A Chinese court handed down a death sentence on Wednesday for Zhang Zhongsheng, former vice-mayor of the city of Luliang, who has been convicted on corruption charges.
The court cited Zhang’s “extreme greed” to explain the harsh sentence, which China’s state-run Global Times hailed as the “ultimate deterrent” and a powerful signal to other corrupt officials.
Zhang, 65, was convicted of taking over a billion yuan in bribes from 1997 to 2013, which works out to about $160 million in U.S. dollars. Two of the individual bribery cases against him involved amounts of over 200 million yuan. About a third of his illicit fortune remains unaccounted for, according to prosecutors.
Zhang was known as the “godfather” of Luliang for cutting himself a piece of just about every venture in the city, especially its increasingly lucrative coal projects, and he was far from the only official who needed to have his palm greased before deals could be consummated. The vice-mayor’s lavish lifestyle was especially galling given the general poverty of the province surrounding his city.
The court breathlessly charged that Zhang “crazily took bribes from 1997 to 2013 and did not restrain himself after the 18th National Party Congress and caused extraordinarily great losses to the nation and its people and should be punished severely by law.”
In other words, he kept taking bribes after Chinese President Xi Jinping launched his much-ballyhooed war on corruption, which was very bad form on his part. The court mentioned concerns about Zhang setting an especially bad example for other officials that could best be corrected by giving him the most severe sentence.
The Global Times notes that death sentences are rare for corruption in China, citing a previous example in which a senior lawmaker was given a capital sentence for poaching a considerably smaller sum than Zhang did, although the sentence was later commuted to life in prison.
Two other vice-mayors who were convicted of corruption were put to death in 2011. The amounts in their cases were much smaller than Zhang’s billion-yuan haul. Their harsh sentences were based in part on the notion that they were holding up projects important to the Chinese people in order to extract bribes, which is also one of the allegations leveled against Zhang.
“According to the court, Zhang used his position to seek benefits for bribe payers through intervening in Lüliang’s economic development, severely infringed the integrity of Chinese officials, damaged their reputation, caused grave social impacts in not only Shanxi Province but the entire nation and inflicted particularly heavy losses on the State and people. Therefore the court handed down the ultimate punishment,” the Global Times explained.
Zhang’s impending date with the executioner is seen by the Global Times as firm evidence that China has achieved “law-based governance” and that “the fight against corruption is gaining unstoppable momentum,” as officials at all levels gain a healthy “respect for the law” and “fear of discipline.”
It will not just be administrative officials getting that message, as the UK Daily Mail points out the National People’s Congress is in the process of creating an anti-graft agency with power over just about everyone in the public sector, which means just about everyone in China.
“This means the Communist Party-led anti-corruption agency would police not only the party’s cadres, but also doctors, teachers, entertainers and other state employees,” the Daily Mail muses.
Under Chinese law, Zhang still has the option of appealing his death sentence, and it must be approved by the Supreme Court in Beijing before it can be carried out. Given how often the Global Times chirps about his “immediate execution,” it doesn’t seem like the editors think much of his chances.