Former Chinese vice mayor gets death in graft case

A former vice mayor of China's wealthy resort city of Hangzhou was sentenced to death Thursday on corruption charges, state media reported, one of the harshest sentences handed down to a high-level Chinese official in recent years.

Xu Maiyong, 52, was convicted of bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power, the Xinhua News Agency said. The official verdict said Xu profited illegally to the tune of 269 million yuan ($41.3 million) while serving in a variety of positions between 1995 and April 2009, when he was dismissed.

Sentences are often announced on the same day as verdicts in China. All death sentences are automatically appealed to the supreme court.

The sentence appeared intended to signal the party's resolve in combatting widespread corruption.

Xu's crimes "severely harmed the image and reputation of the government, grievously harmed the interests of the nation and must be severely punished," Xinhua quoted the Municipal People's Intermediary Court in the city of Ningbo, just south of Hangzhou, as saying.

Cases where the defendant has deep political ties to a given region are often tried elsewhere to prevent interference.

Hangzhou in Zhejiang province has thrived in recent years from tourism, high-tech development and real estate that created greater prosperity but also ample opportunities for graft.

While graft is rife among officials and corruption cases are common, few result in death sentences unless they are linked to murder or other violent crimes.

In July 2010, Wen Qiang, the former police chief of the thriving western metropolis of Chongqing, was executed in a crackdown on organized crime after being convicted of bribery, rape, extortion and gang-related activities.

In 2007, Zheng Xiaoyu, the former head of the drug and food watchdog, was executed after being found guilty of taking bribes to approve substandard medicine blamed for at least 10 deaths.

Although the figure is considered a state secret, China is believed to carry out more court-ordered executions each year than all other nations combined.