SHANGHAI, China — The Communist Party's former chief in Shanghai was sentenced Friday to 18 years in prison for graft, after a massive pension fund scandal that toppled dozens of officials and business people in China's richest and most glamorous city.
The official Xinhua News Agency said Chen Liangyu, 61, was convicted of extorting or accepting bribes of more than $340,000 and abusing his position. The court in Tianjin, where a secretive trial was held last month, also confiscated about $43,000 of Chen's personal assets, the news agency said.
The sentencing marked the culmination of an investigation that began in mid 2006 into Shanghai's multibillion-dollar social security fund, which Chen and others misused for personal gain. Prosecutors also accused Chen of using his power to benefit his family, friends and underlings.
Once a member of China's 24-seat Politburo and one of China's most powerful men, Chen was ousted as Shanghai's party boss in September 2006 — the highest ranking official to be purged in more than decade. It wasn't the bribes per se that got him in trouble, analysts said, since the amount he was forced to give up was insignificant. Rather, they said, his downfall was due to his open defiance of central government orders to curb speculative real estate development that was fueling an overheating economy.
Minxin Pei, director of the China program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, said, "That sends out a very strong message. It's not just about corruption. It's about asserting central government authority. It says to local officials, 'No matter how strong you are, don't mess with us.' "