Tuesday, July 10, 2007

China Executes Drug Safety Director

Zheng Xiaoyu, former director of China's State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA), was executed Tuesday morning with the approval of the Supreme People's Court. (File Photo)

BEIJING, July 10 (Xinhua) -- Zheng Xiaoyu, former director of China's State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA), was executed on Tuesday morning with the approval of the Supreme People's Court.

Zheng was the country's fourth senior official of his rank to be sentenced to death in recent years, following former vice-chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress Cheng Kejie and two former provincial deputy governors Hu Changqing and Wang Huaizhong. Cheng and Hu were sentenced in 2000 and Wang was sentenced in 2004.

Zheng, 63, was sentenced to death on May 29 by the Beijing Municipal No. 1 Intermediate People's Court after being found guilty of taking 6.49 million yuan (850,000 U.S. dollars) in bribes and dereliction of duty.

Zheng appealed for leniency in a second hearing on June 12, arguing the penalty was "too severe" and asking the court to reconsider the sentence. He also gave evidence that implicated other officials in the case.

The Higher People's Court of Beijing rejected Zheng's appeal on June 22 and upheld the death sentence.

"The evidence provided by Zheng was obtained by the prosecution team before his confession," said the court, which then asked for a review and the approval of the Supreme People's Court (SPC).

The SPC ratified the death sentence against Zheng saying, "The judgement made by the first and second hearings was authentic, the evidence was complete and the death sentence was appropriate."

"Zheng's dereliction of duty has undermined the efficiency of China's drug monitoring and supervision, endangered public life and health and has had a very negative social impact," said SPC.

The bribes taken by Zheng, including cash and gifts, were received either directly or through his wife and son, according to the court.

The court said Zheng "sought benefits" for eight pharmaceutical companies by approving their drugs and medical devices during his tenure as China's chief drug and food official from June 1997 to December 2006.

Zheng violated reporting rules and decision-making processes when approving medicines between 2001 and 2003. He failed to make careful arrangements for the supervision of medicine production, which was of critical importance to people's lives, said the court.

The consequences of Zheng's dereliction of duty proved extremely serious. Six types of medicine approved by the administration during that period were fake. Some pharmaceutical companies used false documents to apply for approvals, the court said.

Zheng's case has triggered a public debate, with some saying the death penalty was too "harsh", given the amount of bribes Zheng had taken.

"The amount is only one aspect for the judgement of the court. Zheng was sentenced to death because the impact of his corruption and dereliction of duty was extremely negative." said Professor Gao Mingxuan, of the Law School of the People's University of China.

"Zheng's case highlights how the government should take effective measures to supervise authority," Gao said.

Zhao Bingzhi, director the Criminal Law Institute of the China Law Society, said, "The execution of Zheng demonstrated the resolve of the government to punish corrupt officials, and those with high positions and strong power are punished without mercy."

Last week, one of Zheng's subordinates, Cao Wenzhuang, former head of the drug registration department of the SFDA, was given a suspended death sentence by the Beijing Municipal No.1 Intermediate People's Court.

Commenting on Zheng's case, SFDA spokeswoman Yan Jiangying said at a news conference on Tuesday that corrupt officials shamed the food and drug supervision system.

"We should seriously reflect and learn from these cases. We should fully protect public food and drug safety. The new drug registration regulation, which will come out soon, will ensure the transparency of the drug approval procedure," Yan said.

The government has come under great pressure to overhaul the country's food and drug safety system following a series of controversies caused by shoddy products and corruption scandals involving high-ranking SFDA officials.

She acknowledged that the country's food and drug safety situation was unsatisfactory and supervision needed to be strengthened.

Yan said the government had laid out a five-year plan to tighten the supervision of food and drug products to "significantly reduce the number of incidents caused by substandard food or drug products" by 2010.

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