10/20/2008, 00.00
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The two faces of Chinese justice - ruthless with weak, lenient toward leaders

The former deputy mayor of Beijing, Liu Zhihua, has been condemned to death for the most serious case of corruption in years, but the sentence has been suspended. Instead, capital punishment could soon be applied to a multiple murderer who may be mentally ill.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - A death sentence for corruption has been given to Liu Zhihua, the former deputy mayor of Beijing and the supervisor for building projects and traffic for the 2008 Olympics, but his sentence could be commuted to time in prison. Instead, the death sentence will soon be applied to Yang Jia, who killed six police officers in Shanghai. His appeal was rejected today. They're the different faces of Chinese justice, toward party leaders and ordinary citizens.

Although China is affected by endemic corruption, Liu (in the photo) may have caused the greatest scandal, pocketing at least one million dollars between 1999 and 2006, "[abusing] his power to get contract projects, loans and offer promotions for others in exchange for profits," taking advantage of the period before the Olympics to enjoy unparalleled power. Discovered thanks to his extravagant lifestyle - sumptuous villas, luxury automobiles, jewelry, and mistresses often "provided for him" in exchange for favors, he was arrested in June of 2006. The media have revealed that he had an opulent villa in a suburban compound called Xanadu, "full of luxury villas belonging to senior communist party officials and rich business figures." His mistress Wang Jianrui will be tried separately. She is the owner of a building company, accused of being "assisted" in obtaining contracts to build Olympic facilities for tennis, hockey, and archery.

The sentence, handed down on October 18 by a tribunal in Hebei, has been "suspended" for two years, and the state news agency Xinhua explains that "if Liu shows good behavior his sentence will be commuted to life imprisonment." In such cases, it is not rare for corrupt officials to be set free.

News agencies said that Liu was "in tears" during the four-day trial, recalling how he was a coal miner before rising through the ranks of public office, and admitting to most of the accusations.

Yang's sentence, on the other hand, has been highly criticized by the media, because of the numerous procedural irregularities and the hasty exclusion of the possibility that he is mentally ill. On July 1, armed only with a knife, he got inside a police station, killed six officers and wounded two, possibly in order to "avenge himself" over his mistreatment after being accused of stealing a bicycle. This case has raised sympathy and protests in front of the tribunal, because of the summary nature of the proceedings, not respectful of the right of defense. Now his case is going before the the supreme court, but it seems unlikely that his execution will be suspended.

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