Ex-chairman of China Huarong Asset Management sentenced to death for bribery

William Zheng
·4-min read

The former chairman of one of China’s top four state asset managers was sentenced to death on Tuesday for accepting 1.79 billion yuan (US$277 million) in bribes.

Lai Xiaomin, 58, was sentenced by the Tianjin No 2 Intermediate People’s Court after he was found guilty of taking bribes, corruption and bigamy, according to official news agency Xinhua.

“Although Lai had provided information about crimes committed by his subordinates … the court ruled that [he] did not deserve leniency after taking into account the serious damage his crimes have inflicted on society,” the court statement quoted by Xinhua said.

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The court also ordered that all of Lai’s personal assets be confiscated. It was not clear if Lai would appeal.

Lai Xiaomin was party secretary and chairman of China Huarong and director general of the People’s Bank of China’s banking supervision department. Photo: May Tse
Lai Xiaomin was party secretary and chairman of China Huarong and director general of the People’s Bank of China’s banking supervision department. Photo: May Tse

Lai was convicted of taking advantage of his positions and accepting bribes between 2008 and 2018 when he was party secretary and chairman of Hong Kong-listed China Huarong Asset Management, and director general of the People’s Bank of China’s banking supervision department.

He was also convicted of colluding with others to illegally embezzle public assets worth more than 25.13 million yuan between the end of 2009 and January 2018.

In addition, he was convicted of a count of bigamy. Lai, who was detained in 2018, pleaded guilty to all charges during a trial in August.

The court statement highlighted the timing of Lai’s crimes, most of which it said were committed after the 2012 Communist Party congress – when Xi Jinping took power and started an unprecedented crackdown on corruption.

Lai had shown “no regard for the law and was extremely greedy”, the court statement said.

“Most of his crimes were committed after the 18th congress and [he] was one of those typical cases [that] show no restraint, no desire to stop and continue to run the opposite course [against party orders],” it said.

Huarong corruption scandal underscores governance failures at China’s financial institutions

Yan Huafeng, a criminal lawyer in Hangzhou, said the harsh sentence was likely based on the scale of the bribery.

“Lai was sentenced to death mainly because 1.79 billion yuan is a huge amount of money and also because he was found guilty of soliciting bribes, an offence that usually means a heavy sentence,” said Yan, who is also a research fellow with the Centre for Culture and Rule of Law at Zhejiang University of Technology.

“Since he was head of a state-owned financial company, his crimes would be considered to be endangering the country’s financial security,” he said. “Ensuring financial security is one of the three priority tasks set out by President Xi Jinping in recent years – [I believe] the judge must have taken this into account.”

But Yan noted that Lai had volunteered information on other corruption cases, which would normally result in a more lenient sentence.

He said use of the death penalty as a deterrent was controversial in China, with critics citing the case of Hu Changqing, the former vice-governor of Jiangxi province, who was executed in 2000 for taking 4 million yuan in bribes.

“Looking back, 4 million yuan was really a very small amount and the death sentence clearly had little deterrent effect,” Yan said.

Lai is now the second former senior official facing the death penalty for corruption in China. Zhang Zhongsheng, former deputy mayor of Luliang in Shanxi province, was handed a death sentence in March 2018 for accepting 1.17 billion yuan in bribes. The verdict was confirmed in May 2019 but the execution is awaiting final approval from the Supreme People’s Court.

China has not executed any officials convicted on corruption charges since the executions of Xu Maiyong and Jiang Renjie, the former mayors of Hangzhou in Zhejiang province and Suzhou in Jiangsu, in 2011.

Additional reporting by Guo Rui

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