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Friday, 2 March, 2001, 18:52 GMT
China sentences fraudsters to death
Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji
Zhu Rongji has promised to end corruption
By Duncan Hewitt in Shanghai

China has sentenced seven people to death in an export tax fraud scandal which some reports say could turn out to be one of the country's biggest ever corruption cases.

Two tax officials and a former state prosecutor were among those sentenced.

They were accused of illegally obtaining tax rebates worth some $7m.

Poster of convicted official
Convicted officials have been made an example of
The death sentences handed down by two courts in southern Guangdong province are expected to be followed by others, as investigations continue into what is thought to be a major scandal involving dozens of officials throughout the region.

Under Chinese law, companies which export goods can claim a tax rebate of about 15%.

Those sentenced to death were accused of being part of a network in the coastal cities of Chaoyang and Shantou in which officials issued fake export tax receipts to fraudulent companies, which were then able to reclaim large sums in tax rebates for goods they had never exported.

Reports in the Hong Kong press say that China's central government initially faced obstruction from the local authorities when it tried to investigate the case.

China's Prime Minister, Zhu Rongji, has made tackling the losses in revenue caused by such fraud a top priority.

Public discontent at rampant corruption recently led one Chinese magazine to describe it as the country's number one threat to social order.

One of those alleged to have given protection to criminals is the former deputy police minister, Li Jizhou, who went on trial in Beijing earlier this week accused of involvement in a series of major smuggling cases.

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See also:

15 Feb 01 | Business
China tackles corruption scam
05 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
China steps up war on corruption
13 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
Corruption: End of China's Party?
13 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
China starts mass corruption trials
13 Nov 00 | Asia-Pacific
Corruption hits China census
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