BEIJING: China's former justice minister faces life in prison after a court handed him a suspended death sentence on Thursday for taking bribes and "bending the law". Fu Zhenghua's death sentence will be commuted to life imprisonment after a two-year reprieve, the Intermediate People's Court in the city of Changchun said in a statement.

The high-profile sentencing-part of a sweeping anti-graft campaign-comes just three weeks before a key political meeting where President Xi Jinping is expected to secure an unprecedented third term. The court said former politician Fu had abused his power while in a range of senior positions from 2005 to 2021. "(He is) deprived of political rights for life and all personal property should be confiscated," it added.

Fu, 67, had accepted bribes worth over 117 million yuan ($16.5 million), the court said. Between 2014 and 2015, when Fu was head of the Beijing Public Security Bureau, the court said he hid evidence of suspected crimes committed by his brother, Fu Weihua, and failed to handle the case in accordance with the law.

Anti-corruption drive

During his tenure as Beijing's top cop, Fu is thought to have led the corruption investigation into Zhou Yongkang, the former security chief who was jailed in 2015 in one of the anti-graft campaign's most high-profile cases. Fu was a member of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission and the minister of justice before entering semi-retirement in May 2020.

He was serving as the deputy director of the social and legal affairs committee on the standing committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) -- a largely ceremonial advisory body-when anti-graft authorities launched an investigation into his dealings last October. More than a million officials have been punished under the anti-corruption campaign, which critics say has also served as a means to remove Xi's political enemies since he came to power in 2013.

The Chinese leader has accelerated the pace of the anti-graft campaign in the run-up to the party congress in mid-October. Separately on Thursday, the former head of Jiangsu province's Political and Legal Committee was handed a suspended death sentence for taking bribes worth more than 440 million yuan ($62 million), CCTV reported.

The court also convicted Wang Like of bribing disgraced former vice-minister of public security Sun Lijun, who pleaded guilty to accepting more than 646 million yuan ($91.2 million) in bribes in July. Sun has yet to be sentenced. Three former police chiefs were given harsh sentences for corruption on Wednesday, accused of being part of Sun Lijun's "political clique".

Gong Daoan, former police chief of Shanghai; Deng Huilin, former police chief of Chongqing; and Liu Xinyun, former police chief of coal-rich Shanxi province, were sentenced in separate courts in Hebei province. Gong, former deputy mayor and director of the Shanghai Public Security Bureau, was given a life sentence for accepting bribes worth 73.43 million yuan ($10.4 million), state broadcaster CCTV reported.

Deng, the former director of the Chongqing Public Security Bureau, was jailed for 15 years for taking 42.67 million yuan ($6 million) in bribes, CCTV said. Liu, the former top cop in Shanxi, was imprisoned for 14 years for taking bribes worth 13.33 million ($1.9 million), CCTV reported. - AFP