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Tuesday, June 8, 1999 Published at 13:18 GMT 14:18 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

China executes six for smuggling

China's People's Congress has been told of an anti-smuggling drive

By Beijing Correspondent Duncan Hewitt

The Chinese authorities have executed six people in what has been described as the country's largest ever smuggling case.

The six included senior customs and anti-smuggling officials on the Zhanjiang peninsula in southern Guangdong province as well as accomplices from Hong Kong.

They were found guilty of smuggling thousands of cars and car bodies and hundreds of thousands of tons of oil, steel and sugar.

[ image: Li Shen: Said to have evaded taxes worth $50m]
Li Shen: Said to have evaded taxes worth $50m
'A smugglers' paradise' was how official media described the Zhanjiang peninsula.

Newspapers painted a graphic account of how senior local officials colluded for years with Hong Kong smugglers in what the papers called criminal madness.

Those executed included the heads of the local customs and customs investigation department, both convicted of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes.

One of three Hong Kong citizens executed, Li Shen, is said to have evaded almost $50m in taxes. He was charged with smuggling some 4,000 cars and car bodies, 200,000 tons of steel and large amounts of diesel oil and raw sugar.

Eight people were also given suspended death sentences, among them the local Communist Party boss, depicted as a heavy drinking womaniser who sold official posts, and his son, known locally as the king of car smugglers.

A total of some 200 local officials are reported to have been punished.

Protection rackets

Chinese media had previously described the region as terrorised by criminals who ran protection rackets and raped and murdered with impunity.

The government has hailed the cracking of this case as a victory for its nationwide anti-smuggling campaign and it says customs revenues from legal imports are rising sharply.

Yet an official editorial said the case had damaged the image of the party and government and one paper added it showed the urgency of finding ways of scrutinising top officials.

And with the head of China's anti-corruption bureau sacked last year for financial irregularities and the deputy minister of public security removed in still unexplained circumstances, it may be hard to change public perceptions that such cases are just the tip of the iceberg.

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