China drug official given suspended death sentence
BEIJING, July 6 (Reuters) - China issued a suspended death sentence on Friday to a senior drug registration official for taking bribes, Xinhua news agency said, at a time of nationwide controversy over a string of food and drug safety scandals.
Cao Wenzhuang, former head of the drug registration department under the State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA), received the death penalty with a two-year reprieve from the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People's Court, Xinhua said.
His sentence follows the death sentence -- with no reprieve -- of former SFDA chief Zheng Xiaoyu by the same court and for the same charges in May.
Chinese media said Cao worked under Zheng for years and was once his secretary.
Cao was convicted of abusing his drug approval power to "pursue gains" for two pharmaceutical companies after taking bribes worth over 2.4 million yuan ($315,700) over a period from 2003-2005, Xinhua quoted the court verdict as saying.
He was also convicted of dereliction of duty for "rashly" starting a nationwide renewal of drug licenses and lowering criteria, the verdict said.
"Cao's dereliction of duty caused serious consequence. Some companies used false application material to successfully get renewed licenses for their drugs, including some fake medicines," Xinhua said.
Cao, 45, insisted he was innocent and showed no repentance during his trial last month, the court said. He has reportedly said there would be no clean officials in China if he was found guilty.
"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," the court was quoted as saying.
A suspended death sentence in China is normally commuted to life imprisonment on condition of good behaviour.
Zheng, convicted of taking 6.5 million yuan of bribes and of also being responsible for the haphazard license renewals, appealed the death penalty and stood his second trial in June.
The appeals court has yet to announce a ruling, but if the sentence is upheld and gets final approval from the Supreme People's Court, 62-year-old Zheng would become the highest ranking Chinese official to be executed since 2000.
Hao Heping, head of SFDA's medical equipment department and another of Zheng's former secretaries, was jailed for 15 years for taking bribes and illegal gun possession in November 2006.
On Thursday, another four drug-related government officials also received prison terms ranging from 13 years to life in jail from the Beijing court, Xinhua reported.
Under Zheng's tenure as SFDA chief, dozens died in China from fake or bad drugs and food products.
In one of the most notorious cases, at least 13 patients in southern China died last year after taking an injection containing a toxic industrial solution passed off as a more expensive ingredient.
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