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September 4, 2009

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Soft-drink king faces court for corruption

SEVEN years after being arrested, the former chairman of the once-great domestic soft drink company, Shenzhen-based Jianlibao Group, stood trial yesterday in the Intermediate People's Court of Foshan City in Guangdong Province.
Three of his former staff stood accused alongside him for embezzling and taking bribes, Shandong-based news Website reported yesterday.
Li Jingwei, 70, was arrested in 2002 and had his position as a deputy to the ninth National People's Congress terminated for allegedly embezzling public funds in a deal to sell 75 percent of the company for 338 million yuan (US$49.5 million).
Three of Li's four vice presidents were also taken into custody at the same time, while the other disappeared.
The buyer Zhang Hai, who succeeded Li as the group chairman, was sentenced to 10 years' jail in February 2007 for misusing and embezzling company funds. Under Zhang, Jianlibao sponsored the Shenzhen Jianlibao Football Club from 2002 to 2005.
Guangdong prosecutors said Li had misused millions of yuan in public funds to buy life insurance while transforming Jianlibao from a state-owned alcohol plant part-owned by Guangdong's Sanshui government.
In 18 years Li led Jianlibao to become one of the biggest domestic soft-drink makers - on a par with Coca-Cola and Pepsi. At its peak 1997 its annual sales reached more than 5 billion yuan and the company moved into its 800-million-yuan 38-floor headquarters in Guangzhou. Things then went downhill.
The Sanshui government sold its stake in 2002. By 2005 Jianlibao owed more than 1 billion yuan.


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