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April 19, 2016

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China puts a price on death penalty

THE death penalty will apply in “extremely serious” cases of embezzlement or bribes worth 3 million yuan (US$463,000) or more that have an “extremely vile impact,” according to a judicial ruling issued yesterday.

The Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate document says that a two-year suspended death sentence may apply if there are mitigating factors. Courts tend to be more lenient when sentencing those who cooperate in an investigation.

In cases where the death penalty is deemed too severe, those found guilty may receive a life sentence without commutation or parole, the document said.

Miao Youshui, a senior judge with the SPC, said: “The ruling follows a general principle of harsh punishment for those found guilty of embezzlement or bribery.”

China’s judiciary has been involved in the ongoing campaign against corruption for the past three years.

Last year, 16 senior officials, including former public security chief Zhou Yongkang, were convicted of graft. Prosecutors charged 22 officials at ministerial level or above, while 41 were subject to formal investigations, up from 28 in 2014.

Zhou was sentenced to life imprisonment last June.

In February 2015, two senior executives at state-owned enterprises in central China’s Hunan Province were sentenced to death for accepting bribes of around 200 million yuan.

The ruling, effective immediately, is a supplement to the Criminal Law, which was revised last year.

The revision was aimed at making convictions and sentences more flexible. It replaced rigid standards, such as the exact amount of money involved, with relative statements, such as “a large amount of money,” “a huge amount” and “an extremely huge amount.”

The new ruling sets the minimum “large amount” at 30,000 yuan, for “a huge amount” the minimum is 200,000 yuan, while for “an extremely huge amount” the minimum is 3 million yuan.

Chen Xingliang, of the Law School at Peking University, said the increase should counter inflation and income increases over the past two decades. “It is not likely to lead to a notable reduction of graft convicts.”

The severity of crimes is to be taken into consideration when sentencing. Those who embezzle or accept bribes worth less than 30,000 yuan may still face criminal prosecution if their crimes affect many people.

The document also clarified its stance on certain scenarios. If an official learns that a “person of interest,” such as a family member or close aide, has accepted bribes but does not return or report it, the official will be considered complicit in the crime.

“Often we hear officials claiming that they had no knowledge of their family or aides accepting bribes, thus, distancing themselves from the crime,” Miao said.

Donating ill-gotten money to charity groups or using it for public causes will not reduce the severity of the crime.

Besides cash and property, benefits such as club membership or writing off debt, will be considered gains from graft.


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