Mudslide county trio face criminal charges

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 September, 2008, 12:00am

Three top officials in Xiangfen county, Shanxi , have been arrested and are facing criminal charges on suspicion of covering up the death toll and faking the causes of the massive mudslide that killed at least 268 people on September 8, mainland media said.

Prosecutors in Linfen , the city with jurisdiction over the county, had detained Xiangfen Communist Party secretary Kang Haiyin, county head Li Xuejun and deputy head Han Baoquan, Procuratorial Daily quoted sources from the Supreme People's Procuratorate as saying.

They were suspended from their posts on September 13 while the investigation took place.

In another report, Xinhua cited sources from an investigation taskforce sent by the State Council as saying all three officials had gone to the scene where dozens of tonnes of iron ore waste flooded down, killing hundreds of locals who were in a village or doing business in a nearby market.

The three had attributed the mudslide to heavy rain and had concealed the number of deaths, fully aware that no heavy rain had been recorded on that day in the area, the report added.

What they had done violated the criminal law, and they might be charged with abuse of power and dereliction of duty, Xinhua said.

The mudslide also led to the sackings of five more senior officials - including Shanxi governor Meng Xuenong and vice-governor Zhang Jianmin - and eight other officials with safety departments and town-level governments in Xiangfen have been arrested and might also be prosecuted for negligence.

On September 10, two days after the mudslide, the death toll reported by the government of Linfen was 128, but it surged dramatically after being strongly challenged by both local residents and the State Council taskforce.

The official number of confirmed dead or missing released by Xiangfen suddenly rose to 268, even though questions remain about the figure.

It is common for local cadres to make fraudulent reports or cover up the exact number of deaths after fatal incidents under their jurisdiction.

In a similar mudslide in Loufan county, Shanxi, on August 1, local officials said four days later that only 10 people had died but a journalist from Beijing listed 41 victims in his report and sent the list to newly appointed governor Wang Jun . The reporter later insisted that at least 100 had been killed.

Since September 14, at least 19 senior officials nationwide, including General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine head Li Changjiang , have been fired as a result of series of deadly incidents, such as the melamine-tainted milk scandal, the mudslide in Linfen, the inferno at a nightclub in Shenzhen and a gas explosion in a private coal mine in Dengfeng , Henan .