Land minister is suspended for alleged graft

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 October, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 October, 2003, 12:00am

Tian Fengshan is being investigated for 'illegal land-grabbing', report says

The minister of land and resources has reportedly been suspended for alleged corruption, in the most significant scandal in the central government since President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao took office in March.

Yesterday, the pro-Beijing Wen Wei Po said 'authoritative sources' had confirmed that Tian Fengshan, 63, had been suspended on suspicion of 'illegal land-grabbing' and was being investigated.

The ministry yesterday confirmed that Mr Tian had been replaced as party secretary of the ministry by his executive deputy secretary, Sun Wensheng, but would not confirm or deny that he had been sacked.

Any reshuffle of cabinet ministers has to be approved by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress.

Reports of Mr Tian's departure follow the sacking of health minister Zhang Wenkang earlier this year for covering up the Sars crisis.

Analysts said the dismissals show Mr Hu's determination to rid the government of corruption.

'This government is less than one year old and already there are two ministerial officials fired. It indicates the government is very serious about culpability,' said David Li, associate director of the Centre for Economic Development at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

While details are sketchy, the Wen Wei Po report suggests that Mr Tian is alleged to have been involved in illegal land deals.

His downfall reportedly came after the National Audit Office uncovered 7 million yuan (HK$6.58 million) of irregular land deals in several regions, including Chongqing. The alleged misconduct included the purchase of land for unauthorised use and the illegal rental of land owned by the state.

One report said more than 22,000 hectares had been used improperly and 59 of the 176 land deals that had been approved in Chongqing were cancelled following an investigation.

The investigations were brought to the attention of the State Council, which then reportedly ordered Mr Tian's dismissal. It was not clear if he would be formally charged, reports said. However, some observers have played down Mr Tian's role as 'property tsar' and said he might have been dismissed for serious misconduct during his tenure as governor of Heilongjiang.

Mr Tian became party secretary of the Ministry of Land and Resources in 1999 and was confirmed as minister in March 2000.