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August 3, 2011

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Trial in high-rise inferno ends with 23 sent to jail

The former head of a district construction authority was sentenced to jail for 16 years yesterday in Shanghai on graft charges, highlighting the conclusion of a trial over last November's high-rise inferno that killed 58 people.

Gao Weizhong, former director of the Jing'an District Construction and Transport Commission, was convicted of abuse of power in the 30 million-yuan (US$4.66 million) renovation project at the ill-fated building.

A total of 26 people were charged in the case, and 23 are headed to jail.

Yao Yaming, ex-vice director of the commission, was dealt a five-year term for abuse of power.

The Shanghai No. 2 Intermediate People's Court found that unlicensed welders employed by the project contractor caused the fire when stray sparks from their equipment ignited materials on scaffolding around the building. But the welders were given reprieves by the court. One of them, Wu Guolue, charged with major accident liability, was sentenced to jail for one year with a two-year reprieve. The other, Wang Yongliang, was exempted from criminal punishment.

During a previous hearing, Gao admitted that he had accepted about 120,000 yuan (US$18,553) in bribes. He approved the renovation of the building although it had not been included in renovation projects by the Jing'an District government in 2010.

Gao also directed the winning bid to Jing'an Construction Co and said that it should subcontract the project to the Shanghai Jiayi Building and Decoration Engineering Co, which was not qualified to carry out the project.

Huang Peixin, owner of Shanghai Jiayi, received a jail term of 16 years for his liability for the inferno and accepting bribes. After Huang was offered the renovation project, he then subcontracted parts of the project to six companies despite knowing they were not qualified.

Huang accepted a bribe of 620,000 yuan from several owners of small firms from 2005 to 2010, and offered them a series of renovation projects in Jing'an.

And Ma Yibang, vice general-manager of Shanghai Jiayi, was sentenced to 15 years and six months, for his responsibilities for the fire and accepting bribes of more than 940,000 yuan.

In addition to the criminal offenses, 28 officials and company workers received Party or administrative penalties.

Zhang Renliang, former director of Jing'an District, and Xu Sunqing, a former vice director of the district, were removed from their posts.


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