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August 22, 2009

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Buddha fails to aid bribe couple

A COURT in north China yesterday sentenced a former mayor to death with a two-year reprieve for taking bribes valued at more than 12.4 million yuan (US$1.8 million) during his six years in office.

His wife, a co-conspirator, received a jail term as well.

The couple hid some of their ill-gotten gains in Buddha statutes and even chanted Buddhist prayers in a misguided belief they might be protected from getting caught, prosecutors said.

The Baotou Intermediate People's Court handed the suspended death penalty to Xu Guoyuan, former mayor and vice Party chief of Chifeng City in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

Xu's wife, Li Minjie, was sentenced to three years in prison with a five-year reprieve for accepting more than 1.7 million yuan and helping her husband launder the bribe money, according to the Website of China's Supreme People's Court.

The court also ordered Li to pay a 100,000 yuan fine and confiscated 100,000 yuan in bribery proceeds.

The court said the sentence against Xu was light because he showed a good attitude at the trial. Under Chinese law, the couple's punishment could be commuted if they behave well during their reprieve period.

Xu and Li told prosecutors about their illegal property during the investigation and managed to pay back all the illicit income -- a sign, the court said, of their regret for their crimes.

Yet, the two were reportedly so accustomed to corruption that Xu even retaliated against people who would not pay up, authorities said. And in some cases, Li took bribes from strangers she identified in her confession only as "the squat and fat one" and "the tall, thin one."

In an odd twist, the couple tried to seek protection from Buddha even as they were breaking all Buddhist commandments by seeking bribes for illegally fast-tracking project approvals.

The 53-year-old former mayor hid cash in Buddha statues in his home, prosecutors said. He even sent a safe full of cash and precious jewelry to a Buddhist temple in southwest China's Yunnan Province and hid the key of the safe in an ear of a Buddha statue in the temple, prosecutors said.

Xu did not stop taking bribes during his tenure from 2002 to 2007 even after the couple were investigated by authorities over how they managed to acquire a 3.8 million yuan villa, authorities said.


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