Mainland biggest smuggling case trial to begin on Wednesday


BEIJING, AFP

The first trial into a multi billion-dollar smuggling scandal, the largest ever faced by the Chinese communist leaders, will open on Wednesday amid tight state control, an official said Monday.

“The first group of suspects will be tried in the Xiamen Intermediate People’s Court on Wednesday,” said the official at the court in the port city of Xiamen in southern Fujian province.

But she declined to say how who would appear in court on Monday and how many defendants in the case would go on trial.

The case was first unearthed last year and has been investigated by a 200 member taskforce.

No official figures for the total amount involved have been released, but reportedly the case runs into billions of yuan. Up to four local government officials are expected to face the death penalty for receiving kickbacks and bribes exceeding 100 million yuan (US$12 million). They include former Xiamen customs head Yang Qianxian and former provincial police deputy Zhuang Rushun.

Investigations into the case were reportedly stalled because of the involvement of high ranking Beijing officials, and the case is being widely seen as a test of the central government’s resolve to fight corruption at high levels.

The Xiamen court official said no foreign media would be allowed to cover the event, and only a handful of Chinese news organizations would be given access to the courtroom.

“Even the Xiamen TV station can’t attend,” the official said.

A judge sent down from the Supreme People’s Court in Beijing will oversee the trial, local media and another court official said Sunday.

Judges from the provincial High People’s Court and the state Supreme People’s Court would also hear the case, the official said.

Several former high ranking Xiamen officials will face trial, she said. The governor of Fujian province, Xi Jinping, told reporters Saturday that judicial proceedings had already begun, the semi-official China News Service said.

He said investigations into the scandal had been wrapped up and the case was in the judicial stage.

The case involves a smuggling operation in which a private Hong Kong-based company, the Fairwell Group or “Yuanhua,” allegedly bribed dozens of top customs and security officials to escape duties.

The bribes enabled the company, owned by a Fujian native, to smuggle billions of dollars worth of diesel fuel, cars, petrochemical products and rubber into Xiamen and other cities in coastal Fujian province.