The man once responsible for overseeing the mainland's notorious railways ministry went on trial in Beijing yesterday seeking a lenient verdict on charges of corruption and abuse of power.
The trial marks one of the country's biggest graft cases in years and also the first high-profile corruption case since Xi Jinping became president in March. Liu Zhijun , 60, appeared haggard when court security officers, standing on either side of him and holding his arms, brought him before the Beijing No 2 Intermediate People's Court at 8.30am for a hearing broadcast on state-run TV.
The former railways minister is accused of taking bribes and other gifts worth 64.6 million yuan (HK$81 million), from 1986 to 2011. He is also charged with abusing his position to help 11 people get promoted, and in the awarding of contracts for projects related to high-speed railways. The court said Liu made "no objection" to the charges, and a verdict will be given at a later date. According to the mainland's criminal law, Liu could face the death penalty or life imprisonment if found guilty.
However, Liu's defence lawyer, Qian Lieyang , said that prosecutors had suggested a more lenient sentence because Liu had confessed to all of his crimes during his detention and had helped recover most of the ill-gotten gains. "The prosecutors asked the judges to give leniency to Liu even before I asked for it."
Liu admitted the charges, Qian said, but argued that he did not think 49 million yuan of the total stated in the prosecutor's charges amounted to bribery.
Qian added that Liu burst into tears in the courtroom when making his closing statement, and told the judges he regretted his actions.
Qian also said Liu should get credit for his role in leading the railways ministry during its development of the high-speed-railway network. That expansion also left massive debts and was tarnished by a high-speed train crash in Wenzhou in 2011 in which 40 people died.
Liu remained standing during the 3-1/2-hour hearing, at his own request, because of an "illness", Qian said, without giving details.
There was some criticism in the handling of Liu's case.
"I'm fairly disappointed, as it was a fake trial as usual," said Pu Zhiqiang , a prominent human rights lawyer in Beijing.
"There is little doubt that the court and the prosecutors received an endorsement [from the party's disciplinary authorities] and will announce the verdict based on the will of the leaders but not the law."
Pu added: "The new leadership has been talking about giving more authority to the court, but this entire trial showed that the leaders haven't changed their view on the rule of law."