BEIJING — A court in northern China sentenced a former senior economic official to life in prison on Wednesday after convicting him of taking bribes and abusing his power, according to a report by Xinhua, the state news agency.
The former official, Liu Tienan, was one of the first targets of China’s continuing anticorruption campaign and is one of the highest-ranking bureaucrats to have been sent to prison because of it. Mr. Liu was the deputy head of the National Development and Reform Commission, the main government agency that helps set and carry out economic policy, until his removal last year. He is also a former head of the National Energy Administration.
The court said Mr. Liu had accepted bribes of nearly $5.8 million from 2002 to 2012. The bribes were given to him directly or through his son, Liu Decheng, according to Xinhua.
The government announced in August 2013 that state prosecutors were opening an investigation into Mr. Liu on charges of taking bribes. He had been expelled from the Communist Party that month, which is often a prelude to a criminal investigation. His downfall began in May 2013, when he was dismissed from his post for what the party called “serious disciplinary violations.”Mr. Liu was one of the first and most visible targets of the anticorruption campaign begun by President Xi Jinping, who became leader of the Communist Party in November 2012. Mr. Xi has vowed to take down both “tigers” and “flies” — that is, powerful and minor officials. His campaign is allowing him to consolidate power, get rid of his political enemies and bring discipline to the party, whose officials are often derided by ordinary Chinese as corrupt and removed from the realities of society.
Last Friday, the party announced that it had expelled Zhou Yongkang, a former top politician and head of domestic security, and that the police were formally arresting him on a variety of charges, including taking bribes and leaking official secrets. Mr. Zhou and one of his allies, Bo Xilai, who was sentenced last year to life in prison on corruption charges, were widely seen as rivals of Mr. Xi’s.
Some analysts of Chinese politics say the purge of Mr. Liu could signal preparations by Mr. Xi and other leaders to push forward ambitious economic policies, since the gridlock inside the bureaucracy of the National Development and Reform Commission is believed to be a major obstacle to further liberalizing China’s quasi-command economy.
The Xinhua report said Mr. Liu was a benefactor of four companies, after presumably taking bribes from them. The trial, which took place at the Langfang Intermediate People’s Court in Hebei Province, ended in September, but the court did not announce a verdict or sentence until Wednesday. In any case, a guilty verdict is virtually a foregone conclusion in judicial cases involving high-level corruption, scholars of the Chinese legal system say.
The public airing of accusations against Mr. Liu began in late 2012. That December, Luo Changping, then a deputy editor at Caijing Magazine, wrote social media posts that accused Mr. Liu of being involved in shadowy business deals and threatening to kill his mistress. Mr. Liu denied the accusations through a spokesman, but his removal from his post the next May vindicated Mr. Luo.