A former deputy minister of public security, Li Jizhou, yesterday was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve in connection with China's largest smuggling and corruption scandal, Xinhua reported. Li, who was one of four deputy ministers at the Ministry of Public Security, is the most senior police officer to be convicted in a corruption scandal since 1949. He was in charge of the mainland's anti-smuggling operations and held a rank equivalent to a lieutenant-general in the military. He is the highest-ranking official so far convicted over the Yuan Hua case, which involved 25 billion yuan (HK$23.5 billion) worth of goods. Li's wife, Cheng Xinlian, was also convicted on bribery charges and jailed for 2.5 years. Li was found guilty of bribery and negligence carried out between 1994 and August 1997. He received more than five million yuan from Lai Changxing, the alleged mastermind behind the case involving the Yuan Hua company, Xinhua reported, citing the court verdict. Li, allegedly at Lai's request, blocked an investigation into smuggling and helped Yuan Hua apply for a vehicle goods licence for both the mainland and Hong Kong, Xinhua said. Li also abused his power by forcing the Guangdong Public Security authorities to release smuggled vehicles and other unspecified items. His life was spared because the court took 'into consideration the fact that Li supplied clues essential for the crackdown on the serious case, while he had shown remorse for his behaviour and actively persuaded relatives to return the bribery money', Xinhua said. Li's trial lasted eight months. More than 600 officials and civilians have been investigated in the Yuan Hua scandal, of whom 200 have been convicted. Those convicted include former Xiamen deputy party chief Liu Feng, who was given a life sentence, and former Xiamen vice-mayor Lan Fu, who was given a death sentence with a two-year-reprieve, meaning the penalty could be commuted in two years. Former Xiamen Customs chief Yang Qianxian and former Fuzhou deputy police chief Zhuang Rushun were given the death penalty but authorities are still processing their appeals. Seven other officials, including a Xiamen banker and mid-ranking Customs official, were executed in February. Lai, former boss of the Xiamen-based Yuan Hua Group, fled with his family to Canada and is fighting extradition.