Former railways minister Liu Zhijun has been officially charged with taking bribes and abusing his office in one of the biggest corruption investigations to hit China in recent years.
Prosecutors filed charges against Liu in Beijing's No 2 Intermediate Court yesterday, Xinhua reported, in a long-anticipated move in an investigation that had led to the dismantling of the sprawling Railways Ministry last month in a cabinet shake-up. A trial date would be announced "in due time", Xinhua said.
Liu, who was removed from his post in February 2011, had been the most high-profile Communist Party official brought down amid corruption allegations until the removal last year of former Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai, a member of the elite Politburo.
The government has not yet released any details on Bo's expected trial, but a prosecution source told the South China Morning Post it would probably happen in Beijing before June.
Liu "engaged in malpractice for personal gain and abuse of power, leading to huge losses of public properties and of the interests of the state and its people", Xinhua said.
"As a state functionary, Liu sought benefits for others by taking advantage of his position, and accepted financial incentives from others, which were of a huge amount", it added.
During his eight years as minister, Liu oversaw the massive expansion of the country's high-speed rail network, a showpiece for China's rapid development. But his legacy has been tarnished by numerous problems, such as the accumulation of more than 2.6 trillion yuan (HK$3.2 trillion) in debt and a high-speed train crash in Wenzhou that claimed at least 40 lives.
Liu was expelled from the Communist Party in May. He will become the most senior Chinese official to face such a trial since 2008, when former Shanghai party secretary Chen Liangyu was sentenced to 18 years in jail for similar charges.
Legal experts believe Liu, 60, will probably face a lengthy jail sentence, if not the death penalty, depending on the size of the bribes involved. These figures have never been released, but state media have reported that "the numbers involved were huge and the circumstances very serious".
Li Changjin, chairman of the Hong Kong- and Shanghai-listed China Railway Group, said in Hong Kong yesterday that his company was required to pay agent fees to a middleman associated with Liu when bidding for railway contracts.
"When Liu was Railways Minister, there were lots of corruption and irregularities in China's railway sector. His arrest has cleaned up the railways business, from tendering to construction," he said.
Additional reporting by Toh Han Shih