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August 5, 2009

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Ordeal ends for CCTV reporter in bribery case

A CHINA Central Television reporter caught up in a controversial investigation was handed a suspended prison sentence yesterday in a north China city for accepting bribes.

The Xinghualing District People's Court in Taiyuan, capital of Shanxi Province, found reporter Li Min guilty and sentenced her to three years in prison but with a probation period of four years, China News Service reported.

Authorities charged that Li, a state employee, took 37,000 yuan (US$5,417) from the brother of a suspect who was under investigation by the Xinghualing District People's Prosecutor's Office and used her position to interfere in the case.

Li pleaded guilty and admitted she had violated rules of ethics. Her attorney raised no objection, and Li said she wouldn't appeal the decision.

Many reporters were denied admittance to the hearing, which was open to public. The seats in the courtroom were reserved for designated people, including a group of middle-aged women, according to the Beijing-based Legal Evening News. Some of them complained they were ordered to attend the hearing and had to get up early to do so.

Li's case has sparked nationwide controversy as many members of the public and media questioned whether her arrest was retaliation by Xinghualing prosecutors for investigating their alleged abuse of power.

The case centers on a probe that was being conducted by Li and two other reporters from Beijing. The journalists traveled with Li to look into charges that the Xinghualing office improperly intervened in a dispute between a Hunan Province businessman, identified as Wu Xiaohui, and a Taiyuan businessman.

Chief prosecutor He Shusheng even warned one reporter that they all risked losing their media cards and other punishment, according to a recording of a phone call between He and the reporter. The prosecutor ordered the journalists not to interview anybody in Taiyuan and told them to leave the city as soon as possible, according to the two reporters.

Romantic gift

Wu is still jailed in a local detention house without progress on his case, according to the Legal Evening News.

Wu was involved in a land dispute with a Shanxi businessman and had been seized several times by Shanxi authorities. His younger brother, Wu Xiaohua, later met Li, who covered legal issues for the state broadcaster.

The prosecutor's office accused Li of accepting a bribe, saying she had received expensive gifts from Wu's brother. But Li's close friends said the brother was attracted to Li, who is single. She had invited him to her home several times, according to earlier media reports.

The office also claimed it had been authorized by the Supreme People's Procuratorate to exert jurisdiction over Li's case, but the top prosecutor later declined comment.


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