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China Airport Exec Executed for Corruption

The former head of Beijing airport's management company was executed Friday following his conviction on corruption charges, state media reported, making him the latest figure brought down in China's battle against widespread graft.

An intermediate court found 60-year-old Li Peiying guilty in February of accepting almost $4 million in bribes and embezzling about $12 million in public money since 1995, the Xinhua News Agency said.

Li was executed after the Supreme Court upheld a lower court's rejection of his appeal, Xinhua said. The report did not say when the Supreme Court ruled, and it did not describe the method of execution.

Reports said Li's attorney had argued for leniency, saying his client had returned the stolen money.

China has long struggled against corruption among high-level Communist Party officials, especially in state-owned enterprises in the energy, transportation and other key sectors that wield vast political influence and access to state financing.

Li's execution came two days after word emerged that the head of China's nuclear power program was under investigation for alleged corruption. And just last month, the former chairman of China's second-biggest oil company, Sinopec, was convicted of taking $29 million in bribes and given a suspended death sentence. On Thursday, state media reported that two businesspeople were put to death for multimillion-dollar frauds.

Concern lately has focused on state-run enterprises that are increasingly seeking to compete internationally.

State-owned enterprise executives "possess power and money, making it easy to give rise to corruption," Wang Yukai of the China National School of Administration was quoted Friday in the party newspaper Global Times as saying.

The Capital Airports Holding Co., of which Li was chairman, is among the state enterprise elite, operating more than 30 airports in nine provinces with managing assets of more than 100 billion yuan ($14 billion) and 38,000 employees, according to the company's Web site.

The company's airports handle 30 percent of all airline passenger traffic in China.

In handing down its sentence in February, the Jinan Intermediate People's Court said there was evidence that Li had solicited the bribes, making the crime more serious. It said the amount of public funds Li stole resulted in "extremely large economic losses" for the state and constituted an "extremely serious crime."

Earlier state media reports said most of the bribes Li took came from Beijing nightclub owner Qin Hui in exchange for $90 million in loans or loan guarantees furnished by Capital Airports Holding Co.

According to the reports, Li's corruption lasted from 1995 to 2003, when the investigation began. That would appear to indicate he was relieved of his responsibilities just ahead of a massive expansion of Beijing's airport in preparation for last year's Olympic Games.

The application of the death penalty in corruption cases has come under debate in recent years, with sentiment growing that it should be reserved only for particularly heinous violent crimes.

China puts to death more people every year than all other countries combined, with 5,000 executions expected to take place this year, according to the San Francisco-based Dui Hua Foundation, a human rights monitoring group. The Chinese government itself does not provide an annual count.