Chinese Official Executed for Disaster Cover-Up

A former Communist Party official was executed Friday for trying to cover up a tin mine accident that killed 81 people in 2001, the government announced.

Wan Ruizhong, a former county party secretary in the southern region of Guangxi (search), was convicted of taking bribes from mine managers to conceal the July 17, 2001, accident. Other officials convicted in the disaster have been sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.

The government says miners at the Lajiapo mine (search) drowned when blasting ripped open a hole in a wall separating them from an unused shaft filled with water. The death toll was high even by the standards of China's accident-plagued mining industry.

The disaster caused a national scandal after it emerged that mine owners had bribed officials not to report it and had hired armed thugs to keep reporters away.

The accident "was the direct result of mismanagement, illegal mining and poorly conducted explosions," the official Xinhua News Agency said. "Local government and mine officials managed to cover up the accident for two weeks."

Wan was put to death in Nanning, the Guangxi capital, Xinhua said. It didn't say how the execution was carried out, but Chinese courts can use either gunshot or lethal injection.

Wan was convicted of receiving $390,000 in an "especially serious" offense, Xinhua said.

The disaster revealed the communist system's vulnerability to deception by officials far from Beijing. Then-Premier Zhu Rongji (search) took the unusual step of praising reporters from state media who defied threats to reveal the extent of the disaster.

China's mines are the world's deadliest, with some 5,000 fatalities reported annually despite repeated government promises to tighten safety standards and enforcement.

On Thursday, a former prefecture commissioner was given a suspended one-year prison sentence for failing to investigate the mine disaster and lying to his superiors, a court official said.

Yan Zhihua's sentence was suspended for two years "because he showed repentance," Xinhua said. Chinese courts can commute such sentences later if they conclude convicts have reformed.

The court official, reached by telephone, said he didn't know how judges would decide whether Yan had to serve his sentence. The official wouldn't give his name.