Mystery veils case of jailed lawyer who may face new charges

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 April, 2011, 12:00am


Chongqing authorities have confirmed that jailed lawyer Li Zhuang will be prosecuted further for fabricating evidence in an embezzlement case he handled in 2008, which means he could stay in jail for up to seven more years.

Li was convicted of the same charge in February last year during his defence of Chongqing crime boss Gong Gangmo. He is serving a 11/2-year sentence and is scheduled to be released in June. A spokesman for the municipal government broke the news of Li's possible guilt in other cases earlier last week, citing complaints from unnamed sources.

It is unclear, from the China News Service report on Saturday, where this 2008 crime was committed, but the report said it was appropriate for Chongqing prosecutors and judges to handle the additional case: convicts may be prosecuted and tried in the jurisdiction where they are jailed for extra crimes discovered against them, wherever they were committed.

This explanation is unlikely to quell brewing scepticism among legal professionals over the new charge, and will only throw up more questions about Li's case, which has been shrouded in controversy from the beginning.

The Beijing defence lawyer was arrested at the height of a high-profile crackdown against triads in Chongqing, turned in by his client Gong, who said he felt uncomfortable when Li taught him to claim torture and forced confessions. Gong was given a life sentence in the end.

While most lawyers avoid commenting on whether Li was guilty of the crimes alleged against him, many have written openly to call attention to procedural irregularities and inexplicable twists in the case, against the background of a political campaign that could not be allowed to fail.

Li was convicted upon appeal a mere 58 days after he was detained. On the very day of his detention, state media were already reporting details of the case and making inferences that he was a money-hungry lawyer who would be willing to do anything to get criminals off the hook.

Li insisted on his innocence during the trial, but at the appeal hearing he suddenly admitted guilt, surprising even his own lawyers. But when the appeal judgment and sentence were announced in February, he shouted that his earlier guilty plea had been coerced and that judicial officials had promised to give him a suspended sentence in return. The sentence was only reduced by one year upon appeal and he still had to go to jail.

Veteran criminal lawyer Chen Youxi, Li's defence lawyer in the Gong case, wrote in his blog on Saturday that the additional trial was an attempt to use a better-prepared case to cover up 'a past mistake' and 'salvage the judicial and political image of Chongqing'. Chen said he was unlikely to take up the new case since this was 'a script with a predetermined ending'.

Another veteran, Mo Shaoping, is more concerned about the image of the mainland's defence lawyers. For months after Li's conviction, every lawyer throughout the mainland had to learn about his case, and consistent media reports on Li have reinforced the image of defence lawyers as immoral bloodsuckers.

Mo said: 'Li's case has cast a very negative impact on defence lawyers in China, when our work environment is already worsening by the day.'