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The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes
"The case is thought to be China's biggest ever corruption scandal"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 8 November, 2000, 13:32 GMT
China sentences 14 officials to death
Prime Minister Zhu Rongji
Prime Minister Zhu Rongji has promised to end corruption
China has sentenced 14 government officials to death for their role in a multi-billion dollar smuggling racket in Fujian province.

The defendants are among more than 200 people implicated in what is said to be the country's biggest ever corruption case.

Xiamen court, scene of one of the trials
The Xiamen court is cordoned off
The scandal centres on the port of Xiamen where smugglers are alleged to have brought in at least $6.6bn worth of goods in the early 1990s.

Those sentenced to death include the former deputy mayor of Xiamen and other senior city officials.

Another 12 defendants were jailed for life and 58 received lesser prison terms for their role in the racket.

State media said the smugglers had evaded more than $3bn in import taxes on items including cars, oil, raw materials, heavy machinery and luxury goods.

The scandal is said to have involved hundreds of officials from lowly customs inspectors right up to central government figures.

Secrecy

Wednesday's verdicts were the first to be handed down in a series of trials that started two months ago in five different cities in Fujian.

The cities where the trials are taking place
The trials are being held in five cities
According to China's official Xinhua news agency, 14 senior figures in the smuggling scandal received death sentences, although three were suspended.

Suspended death sentences are usually commuted to life imprisonment in China.

The hearings have been conducted in intense secrecy, with all foreign press and most Chinese journalists barred.

The authorities have not even revealed the exact number of defendants.

But those charged are said to include a high-ranking policeman and senior bankers.

Hong Kong press reports have also implicated the families of some of China's most senior leaders.

The Chinese Government had earlier pledged that no official, however senior, was above the law - and the Xiamen case is being seen as a major test of that promise.

A new wave of trials connected with the Xiamen scandal is expected to begin later this month.

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See also:

13 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
Corruption: End of China's Party?
09 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
Chinese corruption partner gets life
20 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
China expels 'corrupt' official
21 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Three Gorges corruption scandal
21 Jan 00 | Asia-Pacific
China uncovers corruption rackets
08 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
Top Chinese official executed
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