BEIJING (Reuters) - A Chinese provincial official was jailed for 14 years on Thursday for corruption after pictures of him grinning at the scene of an accident and wearing expensive watches went viral online, earning him the nickname “watch brother”.
A picture of the rotund Yang Dacai smiling while inspecting the scene of a bus accident in which 36 people died last year provoked outrage, and criticism grew when pictures of him wearing high-end watches were then posted on social media sites.
State media identified his watch collection as consisting of models by Bulgari, Omega and Rolex, whose price tags Internet users said Yang could not possibly afford on his relatively low government salary.
Yang, who was head of the work safety bureau in the northwestern province of Shaanxi, had defended himself by saying he bought the watches using “legal income” and had reported his purchases to the Communist Party.
But he was put under investigation for graft shortly after the scandal broke as the party moved to show it was responding to public anger about the case.
The court in Shaanxi’s provincial capital Xi’an found him guilty of accepting bribes and being unable to explain his sources of income, the official Xinhua news agency said.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has made fighting graft a top theme of his new administration, and has specifically targeted extravagance and waste, seeking to assuage anger over corruption and restore faith in the party.
While the party has encouraged people to use the Internet to expose graft, especially for lower-level officials like Yang, it has detained activists who have called for officials to publicly disclose their assets.
The party has also stepped up its already tight controls over social media to limit public discussion of sensitive political issues, wary of any threat to its authority or social stability.
Huazhong, a Chinese blogger instrumental in exposing Yang’s watch collection, said he was pleased by the sentence, but added he was no longer pursuing suspected corrupt officials online and that he was disappointed at the lack of progress about asset disclosure.
“It’s a very risky thing to do,” he told Reuters, asking that his real name not be used.
“Since the end of summer this year, control of online opinion has become stricter ... In this kind of atmosphere, in fact, fewer and fewer people will go on to the Internet to do things like criticize officials or expose corruption.”
Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Maxim Duncan; Editing by Nick Macfie
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