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Friday, July 31, 1998 Published at 17:04 GMT 18:04 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Chinese party boss jailed for $2bn corruption

Chen Xitong: Most senior official sentenced for corruption in recent years

A Chinese court has sentenced the former head of the Communist Party in Beijing, Chen Xitong, to 16 years in jail for corruption and dereliction of duty.

Duncan Hewitt, reporting from Beijing: "China's biggest-ever corruption scandal"
Mr Chen, once one of the country's most powerful men, was implicated in a $2bn corruption scandal that revolved around the awarding of planning permission for the reconstruction of Beijing, where he was was also mayor.

Mr Chen was stripped of his Communist Party post in 1995 following investigations into the scandal.

His seniority and his links to those in power had led to speculation that he would avoid prosecution.

But observers say the sentencing of Mr Chen suggests that President Jiang Zemin now feels confident enough in his own position to take his anti-corruption campaign to the highest levels.

Nevertheless, they note that Mr Chen was spared the death sentence which had been used against lower-ranking officials in previous corruption cases.

Chen Xitong is the highest-ranking Communist Party official to be jailed in China since the sentencing of the Gang of Four at the end of the cultural revolution.

Protracted investigation

The official announcement gave no details of the corruption and dereliction of duty which led to his sentence but it follows a protracted investigation into what is thought to have been China's biggest ever corruption scandal.

During his time as Beijing's mayor, Mr Chen is believed to have run a vast empire of embezzlement and kick-backs, much of it linked to the awarding of planning permission for the reconstruction of Beijing.

Some Chinese estimates put the losses to the city at more than $2bn.

Several Beijing officials, including Mr Chen's son and secretary, have already been jailed and his deputy as mayor, Wang Baosen, apparently committed suicide during the investigation.

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