A Beijing court yesterday sentenced Li Ping, mistress of former National People's Congress vice-chairman Cheng Kejie, to life imprisonment for helping him take 41 million yuan (HK$38.54 million) in bribes. Cheng, 66, is the highest-ranking official sentenced to death in the intensified anti-graft crackdown. He has appealed after being sentenced on July 31 on charges that he abused his former position as head of Guangxi province from 1992 to 1998 to amass a fortune intended to finance his luxury life with his mistress, Li. The Number 1 Intermediate People's Court in Beijing found Li, 46, a Hong Kong resident since 1992, guilty of smuggling and helping Cheng take bribes and kickbacks worth 41 million yuan. Li has also been fined 400,000 yuan and had personal possessions worth HK$27 million confiscated. During his years as a provincial vice-party secretary and governor of Guangxi, Cheng was able to sell state land cheaply, illegally grant development contracts, state loans and commodities quotas, and offer at least three colleagues promotions. Li met Cheng in the early 1990s when working at a hotel owned by the Guangxi Government and became his lover. Cheng was said to have been planning to dump his wife and live with Li, who was married to the son of a senior Guangxi official and has a daughter. The two deposited all their illegal earnings in Hong Kong, with the help of a Hong Kong businessman. Between 1992 and 1994, Li and the businessman sold four duty-free import cars, evading 380,000 yuan in custom duties. Li escaped the death penalty because she co-operated with investigators by giving details of Cheng's crimes and helping them to recover misappropriated funds, Xinhua said. State television showed Li looking downcast in a simple white shirt and trousers as she was handcuffed and frog-marched from the courtroom by two armed policewomen. Meanwhile, indoctrination sessions asking cadres to learn from the scandals of Cheng and other 'big tigers', which began in Beijing last week, are also being conducted in regional administrations and PLA units. A source close to security departments in Beijing said senior leaders were still sticking to the unwritten principle that core cadres, no matter how corrupt, would be spared the death penalty. Such cadres included those with Politburo ranking, several of whom are reported to have been implicated in graft scandals. 'While Cheng's NPC position qualified him as a 'state leader', he was never close to the centre of power,' the source said. 'Cheng was important mostly as a top member of the zhuang , a minority nationality. After his demise, Beijing will soon make known Cheng's successor as a senior cadre with a minority-nationality background.'