China accuses former vice environment minister of taking bribes

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese prosecutors accused a former deputy environment minister on Monday of taking 2.4 million yuan ($361,500) in bribes as he stood trial for corruption in Beijing, state media reported.

The investigation of Zhang Lijun, who served in his position between 2008-2013, began in July last year.

Prosecutors said Zhang provided help for project approvals and appointments and took bribes worth around 2.4 million yuan, state news agency Xinhua said in a brief report.

Zhang was allowed to speak to the court and his defense team allowed to participate in cross-examination, it said.

It was not possible to contact Zhang’s defense team.

Chinese courts answer to the ruling Communist Party and generally do not challenge its accusations.

The party’s graft watchdog said last year Zhang had abused his power and taken bribes.

Xinhua said a verdict would be announced at a later date.

Environmental degradation is a sensitive subject in China, with thousands of protests sparked every year by concerns about pollution, particularly from factories.

The environment ministry was reprimanded by the graft watchdog last year for problems including interference by ministry officials and their relatives in environmental impact assessments.

President Xi Jinping has launched a war against deep-seated corruption since assuming office more than three years ago, waging a campaign that has brought down numerous senior officials, including former security tsar Zhou Yongkang.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Paul Tait