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China Vows To Crackdown on Crime

By Elaine Kurtenbach, AP, 10 March 2001

BEIJING (AP) - The country's top law enforcers pledged Saturday to do more to wipe out organized crime, corruption and other threats to stability as China moves forward with market-opening reforms.

Organized crime threatens the lives and economic security of the public, Xiao Yang, China's top judge, told the legislature.

He cited the case of policeman-turned-gangster Liang Xiaoming, who was executed along with six others last September for murder, robbery, running a prostitution ring, gunrunning and fraud.

Xiao, president of the Supreme People's Court, also vowed to strengthen the almost 2-year-old campaign against the Falun Gong (news - web sites) spiritual movement, which the leadership accuses of being an evil cult and a threat to public safety.

Reports presented to the legislature by Xiao and top prosecutor Han Zhubin cited efforts to clean up corruption in the courts and law enforcement - reforms that have so far met with little success, say lawyers experienced in China's legal system.

The National People's Congress is quite candid on problems, but short on significant proposals for legal reforms, said Jerome Cohen, an expert on Chinese law. The courts are still at a rather low professional level.

Altogether, prosecutors last year investigated 45,113 cases of graft, 17.5 percent more than in the previous year, and helped recover stolen funds worth $569 million, 28 percent more than in 1999, the government said.

Courts tried more than 558,000 criminal cases in 2000, up 3.6 percent over 1999, Xiao said.

Communist Party leaders recognize that corruption and crime have undermined public faith in the country's painful program of capitalist-style economic reforms, which has costs millions their jobs.

Local protectionism, expanding criminal syndicates and poorly trained, often corrupt police and judges have stymied efforts to develop an effective legal system.

We face destruction of our party and destruction of our nation if we fail to fight corruption and promote clean government, Li Peng, the top legislator and the second-highest Communist Party official after President Jiang Zemin (news - web sites), told lawmakers Friday.

The expectation that China will join the rules-making World Trade Organization (news - web sites) later this year has intensified pressure to clean up the courts. Success in opening the country's markets will hinge on adequate protection for foreign investors.

None of these reforms will really succeed if there aren't improvements to the legal system, Cohen said.

Han recently ordered prosecutors to give priority to cleaning up law-enforcement agencies, cracking down on bribe-taking and police torture.

Han cited the execution of Cheng Kejie, Li's former deputy, as evidence of the government's graft-fighting. Cheng was convicted of abusing his previous position in local government to amass a fortune.

A former deputy provincial governor, Hu Changqing, was also executed for corruption, and the former party chief of Beijing is serving a 16-year prison term for graft.

A former deputy police minister, Li Jizhou, is on trial on charges of taking bribes and of blocking a probe into a massive smuggling ring in the southeastern port city of Xiamen. The investigation has implicated more than 100 officials and resulted in 11 death sentences in the first round of trials.

Han also noted progress in nabbing suspects who flee prosecution, saying that police arrested 300 fugitives in serious corruption cases.

Xiao said the courts would focus on punishing gang members, traffickers in women and children, drug smuggling, corruption and other crimes.

Despite reforms in the way China processes accused criminals, human rights groups fault China for its frequent use of the death penalty and for routinely denying legal rights to dissidents, labor organizers and others viewed as political threats to the government, including Falun Gong members.