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Life Sentence For Bribes In China

A former Cabinet minister was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison in China's highest-level corruption case since a deputy chairman of parliament was executed in 2001.

A Beijing court convicted Tian Fengshan, former minister of land and resources, of taking 4.4 million yuan ($545,000) in bribes in 1995-2003, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

It said Tian took bribes while he was governor of Heilongjiang province in the northeast in 1995-2000 and then a Cabinet minister until he was dismissed in 2003 on ethics charges.

"The defendant Tian Fengshan took advantage of his position to profit while a servant of the nation," said the ruling by the Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People's Court, according to Xinhua.

China's government has punished tens of thousands of officials in recent years in a crackdown on corruption and other abuses that threaten to erode public acceptance of communist rule.

Despite widespread publicity for the penalties, it isn't clear whether Beijing has succeeded in reining in abuses in a system where heavy government involvement in many areas of the economy and society creates opportunities for extortion and embezzlement.

Tian was the highest-ranking Chinese official prosecuted in a multiyear anti-graft drive since a former deputy chairman of parliament, Cheng Kejie, was executed in 2001 on charges that he took 41 million yuan in bribes.

State media said earlier that Tian confessed to the bribery charges and that all the money has been recovered.

Among those from whom he took bribes was Ma De, a former Communist Party official in Suihua, a city in Heilongjiang, who the government said paid him 100,000 yuan in 1999 for help in arranging financing for a broadcasting building.

Ma received a suspended death sentence in July on corruption charges.

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