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New death card dealt in China drug scandal

By Kirsty Barnes , 06-Jul-2007

A second former State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA) official was slammed with the death penalty over a corruption scandal that first broke last year.

The sentence was handed down last Friday after Cao Wenzhuan was found guilty of taking the equivalent of $307,000 (€229,000) in bribes from two pharma companies seeking a backdoor approval for their drugs, during his position as Pharmaceutical Registration Department director between 2002 and 2006.


He was also convicted of dereliction of duty for "rashly" starting a nationwide renewal of drug licenses and lowering criteria, Xinhua news agency reported.


Cao's death sentence is suspended and could be commuted to life imprisonment if he displays good behaviour during this period of reprieve.


"Cao should be sentenced to death according to law, but he could be spared immediate execution given the tips he provided while in custody which helped the cracking of other cases," Xinhua quoted the court as saying.


Cao now joins his former superior Zheng Xiaoyu on death row, who was condemned (without reprieve) by the same Beijing court in May for taking over $850,000 worth of bribes in the form of cash and gifts when inappropriately approving hundreds of drugs and medical devices, at least six of which proved to be fake.


When he reigned as director of the country's State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA) between 1997 and 2005, dozens of people were killed by fake and inferior products.


Zheng has since filed an appeal to the provincial supreme court, and as part of his appeal for leniency, lawyers have pointed to his "voluntary confessions" and "confessions of good attitude" and his initiative to return some of the cash and gifts he received as bribes, according to a translated version of the Beijing Times.


He will now await a second trial. Should this fail, his death sentence will likely be carried out immediately. It is unknown at this stage if Cao will also launch an appeal, although it is likely - unlike Zheng, he has maintained his innocence throughout the trial and continues to do so.


Meanwhile, on Thursday harsh sentences were also handed down to four other drug supervision officials caught up in the corruption scandal, in which more than 30 high-ranking SFDA officials, among others, even Zheng's wife and son, are thought to be involved.


Wang Guorong, former secretary-general of a think tank in charge of setting up drug standards, will now serve life in jail for accepting bribes; and his colleague Li Zhiyong was given a prison sentence of up to 15 years on graft charges, as were two SFDA officials, Lu Aiying and Ma Teng, according to Xinhua. No other details were released.


Hao Heping, former director of the medical devices department, who also worked under Zheng and with Cao, was sentenced to 15 years jail on corruption charges last November.


China has been waging a concerted clean-up campaign on its pharmaceutical industry of late, as it tries to remedy its international reputation as a producer of unsafe and counterfeit drugs, and as a harbourer of corruption, and subsequently attract lucrative international investment and business deals.

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