When Liu Zhijun, the former Railways Minister in China and once one of the country's most important men, was talking to his family lawyer about representing him in an upcoming corruption case, he had one clear request.
“He asked me to guarantee that he would not face the death penalty," lawyer Gao Zicheng told Chinese media.
Unfortunately, Gao said, that just wasn't something he could guarantee.
Liu has good reason to be concerned — one recent support suggests China may secretly execute thousands of people each year, sometimes for relatively minor infractions.
Liu's alleged crimes certainly weren't minor. From 2003-2011 he was in charge of China's vast railway system and oversaw a huge infrastructure investment, notably including High Speed Rail (HSR).
In that time he is accused of pocketing 60 million yuan (almost $10 million) in bribes for giving out contracts.
The bribes weren't always money either. One businesswoman allegedly arranged for Liu to have sex with TV starlets, including actresses from popular TV series "The Dream of Red Mansions" (there have been some reports in Chinese media that he used his power to have sex with every female member of staff on the show).
Liu's alleged corruption is credited with creating a system many see as overpriced, inefficient and unsafe, and his actions have been linked to the tragic Wenzhou train crash in 2011 that killed 40 people. As Evan Osnos of the New Yorker put it in a long look at China's railways published in October, Liu's name became a byword for “a broken system."
Liu was ousted from the Communist Party last year and finally arrested this week. He will reportedly face trial in Beijing for taking bribes and abusing power. However, there are more scandalous allegations.
According to the South China Morning Post, the death penalty can be given for accepting bribes over 100,000 yuan.
However, Liu could get a reprieve. His own brother, Liu Zhixiang, was sentenced to death for the embezzlement, bribe-taking, and arranging the murder of a contractor intent on exposing him, but his sentence was later suspended.
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