The former chief of a big Chinese state lender was sentenced to death Tuesday for bribery, corruption and bigamy, in a rare and dramatic example of Beijing’s use of capital punishment for economic crimes.
Lai Xiaomin, the former chairman of Huarong Asset Management, was found guilty by a court in the coastal city of Tianjin of receiving some $277 million in bribes between 2008 and 2018. The government will confiscate his personal assets, it said.
Lai was “lawless and extremely greedy,” the Secondary Intermediate People’s Court of Tianjin said in a statement Tuesday, which added that his actions put national financial security at risk.
Lai, 58, was among the highest-profile figures to fall from grace amid a sweeping crackdown on corruption by Xi Jinping, China’s top leader. Lai was kicked out of the Communist Party in 2018 for violating party law and regulations, including abusing his power for sex. He confessed to taking cash bribes last year in a televised show on state media.
The unusually harsh sentence could send a signal that Xi is not ready to ease his anti-corruption campaign, which he began shortly after he took control of the Communist Party in late 2012. The campaign has taken down some of his most powerful rivals. But it has also helped him contain concerns in China that party officials were becoming increasingly corrupt.
“Sentencing Mr. Lai to death will get a lot of support from lower- and middle-class people,” said Zhang Peihong, a partner at Hui Ye Law Firm in Shanghai.
China employs the death penalty widely, although government officials do not disclose figures. But its use for crimes like embezzlement, bribery and corruption has dropped in recent years amid public disapproval.
In sentencing Lai, the court picked a high-profile target. Lai took the helm of Huarong in 2012, helping it to expand into new areas like investments and securities. Huarong was set up in the late 1990s to take on the failing loans of state-owned companies — a type of outfit known as a “bad bank” — lifting the burden from big state-run lenders that were looking to sell shares to the public.