Graft trial opens of former China railways minister

BEIJING, June 9 Sat Jun 8, 2013 10:36pm EDT

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BEIJING, June 9 (Reuters) - China's former railways minister, Liu Zhijun, went on trial on Sunday charged with corruption and abuse of power, state media said, in a case which will demonstrate newly installed President Xi Jinping's resolve to crack down on pervasive graft.

State radio said the trial had begun at a Beijing courthouse under heavy security. It provided no details.

The trial may be over quite quickly, judging by similar graft cases in the past, and the verdict should come out within the next two weeks or so.

Liu was formally charged in April with abuse of power, taking bribes and malpractice, according to previous reports by state media.

Liu took bribes and misused his position to help the chairman of an investment company get illegal profits, according to previous accusations levelled by state media.

In January, Xi said anti-corruption efforts should target low-ranking "flies" as well as powerful "tigers".

But the effort has netted only a few high-ranking violators so far, among them Sichuan province deputy Communist Party boss Li Chuncheng and reportedly Politburo member Li Jianguo, both for "serious" disciplinary issues.

China's railway system has faced numerous problems over the past few years, including heavy debts from funding new high-speed lines, waste and fraud.

The government has pledged to open the rail industry to private investment on an unprecedented scale.

The ministry suffered a big blow to its image when a crash in 2011 between two high-speed trains killed 40 people.

Liu was sacked in February last year and later expelled from the Communist Party. He had successfully resisted a merger with the Ministry of Transport six years ago, but the government announced in March that the two ministries would be merged.

While Liu's case attracted much attention when it first broke, it has been overshadowed by the much more sensational case of the former party chief of Chongqing, the ambitious Bo Xilai.

Bo's downfall last year amid lurid accusations of murder and diplomatic intrigue caused division and uncertainty as the party prepared a transfer of power to a new generation of leaders.

The government has yet to announce a trial date for Bo, or what charges he will face. (Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Ron Popeski)

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