CHINA yesterday executed eight financial workers in what officials called the country's four biggest cases of embezzlement since 1949. The eight, who were accused of taking advantage of loopholes in the financial system and lax management, were put to death after the Supreme People's Court rejected their appeals, Xinhua (the New China News Agency) said last night. All were in their 20s and 30s and worked for banks, investment firms or trading companies in Guangdong, Hainan, Zhejiang and Beijing. Vice-President of the Supreme People's Court Liu Jiachen said that in three cases the criminals were arrested as they tried to flee the country with huge sums of money. Another person involved in the cases had died of illness in detention, while another was still at large. Mr Liu said the criminals had been able to buy forged passports to sneak out of the country, indicating a trend that had to be closely monitored. Yesterday's announcement was seen as ''picking up a few tigers'' to show the angry populace that their rulers were determined to eradicate corruption and serious crime. Another 37 people were executed at the weekend. Most had been rounded up during a month-long crackdown in Chongqing, the capital city of Sichuan. Most of them were convicted of charges ranging from robbery and rape to murder, reports said. Five were executed in Guangdong on Saturday for abduction and extortion. Senior leaders said a clean and honest bureaucracy was instrumental in pushing through reforms over the chaotic economic and financial structure. In what officials said was the largest graft case since 1949, an accountant from a branch of the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China in Hainan province embezzled 33.44 million yuan (HK$44.76 million) last year, with the help of four accomplices. Two sneaked into Vietnam but were arrested there, Xinhua said. In another case in Beijing, a member of staff at the head office of the Bank of China received US$30,000 (about HK$232,000) for illegally transferring more than US$1.25 million to the accounts of his friends through a bank computer system he supervised. The third case involved a businessman from Guangdong province and an accountant at a local branch of the Agricultural Bank of China who was charged with accepting bribes of HK$4.54 million by forging banking documents. In the fourth case, an employee of an investment company under a state bank in Zhejiang province colluded with an accomplice to divert 5.1 million yuan from the bank. The two fled to Singapore with forged passports but were also detained, Xinhua said. Announcing the executions, Mr Liu said the number of serious criminal cases among banking officials has soared recently incurring serious losses to the country. He said the central Government would not be lenient towards serious criminal elements who blatantly embezzled funds from state coffers. They would be severely punished in order to maintain fiscal order, Mr Liu said. Xinhua reported that a provincial director of the People's Bank of China was recently demoted for misuse of funds. Xu Guofeng, a director for Hebei provincial branch, had diverted 100 million yuan for speculative activities in real estate in southern China, it said. In June, a Beijing court imposed heavy sentences including the death penalty on eight bank officials convicted of accepting bribes in a loan fraud.