At Caixin, Shanghai-based lawyer Ding Jinkun expresses doubts about the trial on Sunday of former Minister of Railways Liu Zhijun, whose prosecution for corruption helped bring about the ministry’s dismantling earlier this year.
This was a complex case, involving more than 477 dossiers of related documents. Yet the trial was executed with astonishing efficiency and concluded in less than half a day.
[…] Liu accepted all charges and pleaded for leniency in punishment with a tearful statement. He even made reference to the trending concept of the Chinese dream, a telling example of how deeply he understood the Chinese characteristics in rule of law – for him the only possible way to avoid death is pleasing the top leaders.
[…] The debate was red-hot outside the courtroom. Will Liu receive the death penalty? From the level of cooperation he demonstrated on trial, his life should be spared this time. But then how will large bribery cases be dealt with in the future? Secondly, in the eyes of the legal community, there is an ethics issue. Can a Chinese-style show trial bring justice? The stance prosecutors took by the end of the trial was suspicious, and it’s an open question as to whether judges had a clear grasp of the case. [Source]
The prosecutors’ “suspicious” stance was a request for leniency, which has infuriated netizens eager for harsh punishment. Ding also notes the discovery that the charges against Liu appear to reflect only a tiny portion of his illicit gains, which reportedly included over $140 million and almost 350 apartments. From Cary Huang at South China Morning Post:
On trial at Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court on Sunday, Liu was accused of using his position of influence to help business associates win promotions and project contracts, and of accepting 64.6 million yuan in unspecified bribes between 1986 and 2011, according to an indictment reported by the official Xinhua News Agency.
But the [Beijing] Times reported yesterday that in other cases related to Liu’s abuse of his official power, officials had also seized large amounts of cash in various currencies. These include 795.5 million yuan, HK$85 million, US$235,000 and 2.2 million euro (HK$22.5 million). Also recovered were other assets, such as shares, vehicles, flats and other valuables, according to the report.
The report did not explain why those assets were not included in the charges against Liu. [Source]
One Sina Weibo user quipped that these revelations made Liu “the first high-ranking official to publicly declare his assets”, referring to popular demands for transparency regulations like those recently introduced in Macau. But even as the government acknowledges the problem of official corruption and vows to bring its perpetrators to justice, a number of activists campaigning for asset disclosure have been detained in recent months, prompting protests from human rights organizations. From SCMP’s Cary Huang:
The China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, Committee to Support Chinese Lawyers, Front Line Defenders, Human Rights Watch and Independent Chinese PEN called on the central government to release the detainees and drop all charges against them. They said the detentions cast doubt on President Xi Jinping’s commitment to cracking down on government corruption.
Since May 7, 10 of the 15 activists detained had been formally arrested, indicating they were likely to be prosecuted and convicted, the right groups said. The charges against the 15 include illegal assembly, inciting subversion of state power, disturbing social order and extortion. The crime of inciting subversion carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison, while the other crimes have maximum penalties of five years in prison.
[…] “When President Xi Jinping calls for a tough response to corruption, it’s hailed as innovative policy, but when ordinary people say the same in public, his government regards it as subversion,” Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, said. [Source]