China clarifies criteria for capital punishment in graft cases

(Xinhua)      Updated : 2016-04-18

BEIJING, April 18 (Xinhua) -- The maximum penalty for convicts found guilty of embezzling or accepting bribes worth 3 million yuan ($463,000) or more in an "extremely serious case" with "extremely vile impact" will be the death penalty, according to a new judicial explanation issued on Monday.

The ruling was jointly issued by the Supreme People's Court and the Supreme People's Procuratorate.

A two-year suspended death sentence may be issued if there are mitigating factors, according to the judicial document. In practice, courts tend to be more lenient when sentencing those who have cooperated during the investigation.

In cases where the death penalty may be too strong, convicts may receive a life sentence without commutation or parole, according to the document.

The ruling is a supplement to the Criminal Law, which was revised in late 2015.

Last year's revision aimed to make the conviction and sentencing of embezzlement and bribery convicts more flexible. It replaced rigid standards, such as the exact amount of money involved, with relative statements, such as "a large amount of money," "a huge amount of money" and "an extremely huge amount of money."

The law gives judicial departments more authority to set precise standards, as it is easier to revise a judicial explanation than amend the law.

The new ruling set the minimum of "a large amount of money" at 30,000 yuan, for "a huge amount of money" the minimum is 200,000 yuan, while for "an extremely huge amount of money" the minimum was set at 3 million yuan.

The 1997 version of the Criminal Law set the minimum standard for criminal prosecution at 5,000 yuan. Due to currency inflation and income increases, it was deemed too low a figure.

The severity of the crimes is to be taken into consideration. For example, those who embezzle or accept bribes worth less than 30,000 yuan may face criminal prosecution if their crimes are serious and affect many people.

The judicial document also clarified its stance on certain scenarios. If an official learns that a "person of interest," such as a family member or close aide, has accepted bribes but does not return or report it, the official will be considered as complicit in the crime.

Donating dirty money to charity groups or using it for a public cause will not reduce the severity of the crime.

The judicial explanation will take effect upon its announcement.