China jails former senior oil executive for 15 years for graft

BEIJING (Reuters) - A Chinese court on Thursday jailed the former vice chairman of oil giant PetroChina for 15 years after finding him guilty of corruption, the latest official to be brought down in a sweeping crackdown on graft.

Liao Yongyuan stepped down from his posts as vice chairman and non-executive director in 2015. He was the most senior of two vice chairmen at PetroChina, China’s top oil and gas producer, making him the company’s second-highest-ranking official.

The ruling Communist Party’s anti-corruption watchdog had previously said Liao was under investigation for “serious disciplinary violations” stemming from his role as a general manager of China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), the parent company of PetroChina.

The court in Dezhou in the northern province of Shandong said Liao had been found guilty of bribery, the provincial high court said in a statement on its official microblog.

Liao had abused his various positions in the energy industry between 1997 and 2014 for personal gain, between 2003 and 2015 took 13.4 million yuan ($1.95 million) in bribes, and was unable to account for the origin of 21 million yuan in assets, the court said.

Liao repented and confessed to his crimes, meaning he got a lighter punishment, it added.

It was not possible to contact a legal or family representative for him.

Liao, a 30-year veteran at CNPC, was appointed vice chairman of PetroChina in May 2014, just months after China announced that several top executives from the two companies were under investigation. That included Jiang Jiemin, former chairman of both entities, who has also been jailed.

Reuters was not able to reach a CNPC press official for comment. A media official with PetroChina said he had no comment.

President Xi Jinping has spent the past four years waging war on corruption, saying it threatens the party’s very survival. Scores of senior officials in the party, the government, the military and state-owned enterprises have been caught up in the campaign and punished.

Some were protégées of former domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang, who was jailed for life in 2015 after being found guilty of crimes ranging from taking bribes to leaking state secrets.

Zhou rose through the ranks at CNPC and from 1996 to 1998 served as general manager of the firm.

($1 = 6.8635 Chinese yuan renminbi)

Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Chen Aizhu; Editing by Christian Schmollinger