Disgraced former Shenzhen mayor Xu Zongheng was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve by the Zhengzhou Intermediate People's Court in Henan yesterday for taking bribes of more than 33 million yuan (HK$39.43 million). Xinhua said all the bribes had been seized by authorities after the case was exposed and Xu's personal assets had also been confiscated. Xu was convicted of pocketing 33.18 million yuan between 2001 and 2009, when he was chief of Shenzhen's Communist Party organisation department, deputy mayor and mayor. 'Xu took advantage of his posts and received bribes or gifts worth 33.18 million yuan to help Shenzhen Shunjia Hi-tech Construction Materials, Yu Weiliang, former party boss of Shenzhen's Longgang district, and seven other companies or individuals alter government land planning, win bids for construction projects, get promotions and advance their personal interests,' the verdict said. The court said in the verdict that: 'Xu, as a public servant, took advantage of his posts and took bribes by helping others to seek personal interests. His conduct was considered as bribe-taking. The amount of bribes Xu took was huge and the crime was particularly serious.' It said that because Xu, on his own initiative, 'confessed some bribe-taking facts that authorities weren't aware of, pleaded guilty with a good attitude and all bribes were seized', it had decided not to impose an immediate death sentence, Xinhua reported. The verdict was handed down yesterday morning, 18 days after the former mayor stood trial in Zhengzhou court on April 21 and 22 months after the corruption investigation began. Such sentences are typically commuted to life in prison. It is not known if Xu will appeal. Mainland media reported that at least five senior officials linked to Xu had fallen from power, including Yu Weiliang, Chen Shengxing, former chairman of the district committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, and Li Ping, former Communist Party boss of Shenzhen's Futian district. Century Weekly magazine said besides Shunjia Hi-tech Construction Materials, Xu also helped real estate company Shenzhen King Glory, which it said got land through government requisitions. It said the company's chairman was deprived of his Guangdong CPPCC membership last year due to allegations that he offered bribes. Veteran China-watcher Johnny Lau Yui-siu said the verdict was too light and showed a lack of determination to root out corruption among party cadres. 'Many officials in lower level positions who took smaller bribes than Xu received death penalties, and the verdict suggests the authorities gave the disgraced mayor a way out, rather than acting according to the law,' Lau said. 'After a two-year reprieve, many restrictions on Xu could be loosened and he may be able to be bailed out for medical treatment and actually escape punishment.' He said it was no way to deter party cadres from corruption. One Shenzhen resident said Xu's case raised concerns about the safety of projects such as the metro lines that were planned and built under the former mayor's administration. 'Who knows whether the corners that Xu cut affected the safety standard of the metro system that tens of thousands of commuters use every day? I believe the punishment is too light,' she said.