05/18/2012, 00.00
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Life sentence for Lai Changxing, one of the most powerful men in Jiang Zemin's China

The industrial tycoon was considered a protégé of former president and member of the "Shanghai clique", the power group linked to Jiang. His sentence (for corruption and embezzlement of state assets) is seen as a preparatory move for the next Party Congress, when China will change its leadership.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - The Intermediate People's Court of Xiamen today sentenced Lai Changxing, one of the richest and most influential of President Jiang Zemin's China, to life imprisonment. Lai was considered a protégé of former Communist leader and has spent the past 21 years in exile in Hong Kong and Canada. His sentence is considered by some analysts, one of the preparatory moves for the next Party Congress which in autumn will kick off the fifth generation of Chinese leaders.

Son of former Secretary General of the State Council Ji Pengfei, Lai is known for being one of the architects of China's transition from communism to state capitalism. Over a period of 20 years, he dominated the province of Fujian, industrializing the Xiamen Special Economic Zone and amassing billions of dollars. Amid recognized accusations is corruption of public officials, private violence and appropriation of public goods. In his network of contacts were Li Jizhou, Ganlu Hu, Feng Liu and Zhuang Rushun: all senior members of the party.

Lai fled from China to Hong Kong in 1991 after being disowned by his political patrons. The then Premier Zhu Rongji, after yet another scandal, said in fact that the industrial tycoon "should be shot in public more than once." In 1999 he moved to Canada, from where Beijing demanded his extradition for 12 years. The final part of his trial lasted less than three weeks.

His sentence is considered a political move by all. At the height of his power, Lai had very close relations with the then governor of Fujian, Xi Jinping, who at the next Party Congress is set to replace current president Hu Jintao. In addition, Lai was considered a protégé of the "Shanghai clique", the power group linked to former president Jiang Zemin who still retains considerable power in the state apparatus.


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