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The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes
"This gang is alleged to have paid enormous bribes to officials"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 13 September, 2000, 19:22 GMT 20:22 UK
China starts mass corruption trials
Prime Minister Zhu Rongji
Prime Minister Zhu Rongji has promised to end corruption
China's biggest corruption trials in 50 years of Communist rule have started in the southern province of Fujian.

I heard that if they tried one person a day they would never get through this case in a year

Xiamen resident
Up to 200 officials from all levels of government have been implicated in a multi-billion dollar smuggling scandal centred on the southern port of city of Xiamen.

The trials are being seen as a major test of the Chinese Government's promise that no official, however senior, is above the law.

The trials opened in five cities amid intense secrecy, with all foreign press and most Chinese journalists barred from attending.

The exact number and identity of the defendants is not known, but some are expected to face the death penalty.

Officials are accused of taking bribes - amounting to millions of US dollars - to turn a blind eye to the smuggling of billions of dollars' worth of goods through Xiamen port, on the south-east coast.

Shipments included luxury cars, thousands of tons of oil and heavy machinery.

Officials from Xiamen are expected to have their cases heard first.

But two suspects in senior positions are believed to have fled the country.

Tight security

Police blocked off all roads around Xiamen's court building on Wednesday and turned away anyone without an official pass.

The Xiamen court is cordoned off
"I heard that if they tried one person a day they would never get through this case in a year," said local resident Chen Changjian.

Other trials are taking place in the cities of Fuzhou, Quanzhou, Putian and Zhangzhou.

Hong Kong press reports have implicated between 200 and 600 government officials, including the families of some of China's most senior leaders.

The Beijing Youth Daily said around 10 officials would be sentenced to death for accepting five million yuan ($602,000) each in bribes.

Beijing correspondent Rupert Wingfield-Hayes says the big question is how far the government is prepared to go in prosecuting higher-level officials with better connections.

A year-long investigation is thought to have implicated several members of the central government, including the former head of China's national police force and the country's immigration chief.

Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji has promised to root out corrupt government officials at all levels.

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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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