Ex-minister to face trial over Wenzhou crash

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 10:58pm


Disgraced former railways minister Liu Zhijun is expected to stand trial soon for his role in last year's deadly high-speed train crash in Wenzhou, after state prosecutors handed the case to municipal authorities.

The website of the state-run Guangming Daily reported yesterday that the Supreme People's Procuratorate had formally transferred the case to prosecutors in Beijing, a procedural first step that paves the way for a trial in the capital.

At least 40 people died and nearly 200 were injured on July 23 of last year, when two high-speed trains collided on an elevated section of track in Zhejiang province. It was one of the worst accidents of its kind for decades in China and shook confidence in an ambitious transport project that had previously been seen as evidence of the mainland's economic rise.

A State Council investigation laid the bulk of the blame on Liu, even though he had been sacked for corruption five months before the crash. Liu was expelled from the Communist Party in May after its anti-graft watchdog concluded a 15-month probe into his corruption case.

Analysts said the train-wreck trial was likely to begin soon, as the central government appeared keen to wrap up the embarrassing case ahead of the once-a-decade leadership transition at the 18th National Party Congress later this year.

'Both the incumbent and incoming leadership must be eager to put the disaster behind them, as well as the corruption scandal involving ministerial-level officials, before the party congress,' said Professor Hu Xingdou , a Beijing-based political analyst.

Hu said it was in the party's interest to use Liu's trial to reiterate its pledge to stamp out corruption and polish an image tarnished by rampant official corruption amid widespread public discontent.

Lawyer Pu Zhiqiang said Liu's trial would quickly begin in the capital once the case was handed over to municipal prosecutors.

Pu said Liu's corruption case should have been kept separate from the crash case.

'It is hardly convincing to say Liu, who lost his personal freedom months before the deadly disaster, should bear primary responsibility for the accident,' Pu said. 'By merging the two cases together, it appears likely the huge corruption that has implicated Liu and others will not be fully addressed and the lessons from the deadly train clash will be lost.'

Former railways deputy chief engineer Zhang Shuguang , who was sacked along with Liu and was also blamed for the disaster, is also likely to be tried. But it remains unclear if any of the other 54 railway officials administratively disciplined over the accident will face trial.

Liu played a big role in the railways sector's huge leap forward over the past decade, but he had been plagued by safety scandals and accusations of corruption even before his sacking in February of last year.

Hu and Pu said Liu was likely to face the death penalty at his trial, which would likely not be open to the public. 'The death penalty is still possible because the leadership wants to set up a positive image, given the widespread public anger over the crash and the seemingly incurable corruption among senior officials,' Hu said. 'Liu's case apparently contains too many dirty secrets about power and corruption that cannot be made public.'