OPINION: Fall of China's railway dynasty

Kuala Lumpur (The Star/ANN) - There are lessons to be learnt from the corruption trial of China's former Railways Minister over millions in yuan and sex for deals.

The corruption trial of former Chinese Railways Minister Liu Zhijun finally began at the Beijing Municipal No 2 Intermediate People's Court last Sunday.

The global attention that the case has generated since Liu's expulsion from his official post in February 2011 is because of the possible domino effect on the so-called "railways ministry dynasty", which has built and run mega rail projects worth trillions of yuan all over China.

The fall of the top railways boss would send deterrent signals to other government and Chinese Communist Party officials who are entrusted to spend the people's money on such infrastructure projects.

On the first day of the hearing, only about 50 people, including Liu's family members, journalists from five or six media organisations and legislators and political advisers from the People's Congress and People's Political Consultative Conference, were allowed to sit in for the trial.

Hordes of other local and foreign journalists covering the case waited outside the court.

According to reports by media members present at the proceedings, the court heard that Liu took advantage of his position as the Zhengzhou Railway Department's Wuhan branch chief and deputy party secretary, Zhengzhou Railway Department director, Shenyang Railway Department director, deputy railways minister and eventually railways minister to help 11 people secure promotions and project contracts and accepted 64.6 million yuan (US$10.53 million) in bribes from them between 1986 and 2011.

During Liu's tenure as railways minister, among those who gained promotion was former Nanchang Railway Department director Shao Liping. He received some 14.8 million yuan and luxury goods worth about 13.3 million yuan from Shao and 10 others.

Between November 2003 and December 2006, Liu was bribed 22 times by former Guangzhou Railway (Group) Corporation president Wu Junguang with a total sum of 726,700 yuan.

Liu helped businesswoman Ding Yuxin and her relatives to win railway construction and advertising deals.

He also helped them in acquiring shares in a company manufacturing bullet train wheel sets and getting financial loans.

These enabled Ding to attain fortune in an unlawful manner.

All in all, Liu allegedly received 49 million yuan from Ding but this was denied by Liu in court.

However, Liu did not raise any objection to other charges.

The trial lasted for about three hours. At the end of the trial at noon, the 60-year-old Liu broke down crying and repented his misconduct.

"As a farmer's son, I could have made a greater contribution towards China's railway development and the Chinese dream. But because of my own problem of neglecting studies and the vigilance of my moral values, I ended up walking this path," he said.

Later at a press conference, the court's research centre director Guo Peng said Liu's defence counsel Qian Lieyang pleaded for a lighter sentence taking into consideration that Liu was honest about the facts of the crime, the losses had been recovered and the alleged sum of 49 million yuan was not a personal bribe for Liu.

She said that according to the indictment by the prosecutors, Liu was a state agency personnel but his misconduct led to huge losses of public assets and damage to the interest of the country and people, and he should be subject to criminal liabilities.

The court would study the evidence and opinions provided by both the prosecutors and defence counsel over the month and announce the judgment on a day to be decided later, she added.

On claims that Liu was offered sex with prostitutes who were paid by Ding, Qian said neither the indictment nor the court touched on the allegations.

"I reckon that in real life sexual bribery will be harmful to society, but the concept of sexual bribery does not exist in our current criminal laws," he was quoted by Beijing News as saying.

According to the findings from the investigation into the case, Liu had testified that he helped Ding build her business and in return she splashed money to satisfy all his personal needs.

Apparently, between 2003 and 2009, Ding arranged for Liu to have sex with women at five-star hotels and entertainment outlets.

Due to the severity of the crime, Liu faces the death sentence. Prior to the trial, Liu and his family sought the help of two defence counsel but did not enlist them because they could not guarantee that he would not be sentenced to death.

In its editorial, Beijing News said that over the last two years since the fall of the ex-railways boss, China's railway industry had experienced two major incidents, namely the high-speed train crash that killed 40 people in Zhejiang province's Wenzhou city in July 2011 and the disbandment of the railways ministry in March this year.

"Liu Zhijun would not be able to shirk his responsibility for causing the train crash. The corruption case shall provide a lesson as to how to reform the railway industry," it said.

Nanfang Metropolis Daily said only through fair and open trial would corrupt officials who became the target of public hatred be able to clear their tarnished image.

"Since the arrest of Liu, news of him involved in sex scandals has spread on the Internet. This include his improper relationship with actresses in the New Red Chamber television series.

"Most of the people who read such novel-like stories do not care so much about whether they are real or not, but rather habitually accept the reported information.

"In Chinese society, when officials are caught, not only will they lose their right to protect themselves but they are also cast away and attacked by the public. They are sent to hell even before the trial starts or ends," the newspaper said.

It urged the public to respect the rule of law that would take course in revealing the truth.