Who is the bigger criminal - an official who diverted 15.8 billion yuan (HK$17.45 billion) in public funds for his own use, or a beauty parlour boss who illegally amassed less than one-twentieth of that sum? The country's sentencing standards again stirred public outcry yesterday when the China Youth Daily newspaper published a commentary questioning the recent sentencing of the official to 18 years in jail when the parlour boss was given the death penalty. Lishui Intermediate People's Court in Zhejiang province ruled on Friday that beauty parlour boss Du Yimin had committed fraud by illegally collecting 700 million yuan from the public for investments, and sentenced her to death. A day before, Changchun Intermediate People's Court in Jilin province convicted former Shanghai Labour and Social Security Bureau chief Zhu Junyi of three charges of accepting bribes, unauthorised use of public funds and abuse of office. The maximum punishment for a charge of unauthorised use of public funds is a life sentence, while bribes amounting to 100,000 yuan or above can be serious enough to warrant a death sentence. But Zhu was ordered to serve 18 years in prison. Although there may be other circumstances in the cases that support the particular sentencing, China Youth Daily said the court should give the public an explanation of why Zhu was not handed the maximum punishment, given the severity of his crime. Criminal law professor Wang Zhixiang of Beijing Normal University said the problem was that the courts had too much discretion under the criminal code to decide what made a serious case of bribery. But Chinese Academy of Social Sciences criminal law researcher Liu Renwen said the problem was not limited to the stark contrasts between the fate of a corrupt official and a fraudulent businesswoman; examples of unfair but legal sentencing were plentiful. 'The Criminal Law should in general reflect the public's feeling [of what's wrong and right],' Professor Liu said. The lack of sentencing guidelines from the Supreme People's Court is one problem, but the lack of sentencing co-ordination for different offences often stirs broader social debate. The average of two years' jail handed down to negligent officials in the Shanxi slave kiln cases sharply contrasts with the life imprisonment given young migrant worker Xu Ting in Guangdong in December for exploiting an ATM blunder to withdraw 170,000 yuan. The decision sparked heated debate, and Xu was granted a retrial. Professor Liu said one reason behind the sentencing inconsistencies was that punishment standards for each offence were determined at different times, some going back to the 1980s. 'The co-ordination of sentencing standards for different offences is an area worth our concern as academics.'