Former high-flying mayor sobs as bribery trial begins

The trial began on Wednesday of a former mayor from the southern province of Guangdong who is charged with insider trading, disclosing protected information and taking bribes while in office.

Li Qihong, 57, who had been mayor of the prosperous Pearl River Delta city of Zhongshan, stands accused along with nine others suspected of helping her commit financial crimes.

The 10 appeared in Guangzhou Intermediate People’s Court.

Among the accused are the former mayor’s husband, Lin Yong’an, and four other relatives.

Li partially confessed to the crimes in court and asked for a lenient sentence.

Her lawyer told China Daily she simply made a mistake.

“Li knew little about stock trading,” said Zheng Min. “Actually, she did not know that it was illegal to buy stocks after being told insider stock information.”

Zheng insisted his client never used her privileged information to help her husband make a profit from trades.

“One thing should be clarified,” he said. “Li did not talk about any information related to the stock price of Zhongshan Public Utilities Group Co Ltd with her husband.”

Prosecutors allege Li asked her sister-in-law, Lin Xiaoyan, who is among those on trial, to withdraw about 2.4 million yuan ($366,000) from Li’s husband’s account along with another 3.5 million yuan from Lin’s husband.

The money was allegedly used to buy stocks in Zhongshan Public Utilities Group Co Ltd between June 29 and July 3, 2007, after a discussion between Li and her husband about the asset restructuring and a stock price hike at the company.

Two months later, Li was suspected of having illegally earned 19.8 million yuan from insider stock market trading.

She insisted in court that only 2 million yuan was taken out of her husband’s account before the alleged purchase.

“I did not know why the money was withdrawn,” she said in court. “I was a public servant at that time. If I had known it was illegal to buy stocks after being informed about a listed company’s inside information, I would not have done it.”

Li insisted she had not asked her husband to buy the stock and said she had not released any information to him.

She is also charged with accepting bribes worth HK$400,000 ($51,000) from a local official surnamed Liang after she allegedly helped him gain promotion between 2006 and 2010.

And she is also facing charges of taking bribes worth 100,000 yuan from a local businessman surnamed Guan in return for helping his company secure a high credit rating from the local Gongbei Customs.

“As a native of Zhongshan, I am very sorry for what I did during my official term,” Li said through tears in front of judges and about 90 people in court.

She had once been a high flyer and was promoted to become director of a local residential community in Zhongshan when she was only 16 and was later honored for being one of the top 10 mayors in the country, thanks to the city’s strong performance in urban construction, environmental protection and the finance and transportation industries.

Li, who became mayor of Zhongshan in 2007, was removed from her post after the case was made public at the end of May 2010.

The verdict will be announced at a future date.

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