Authorities in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou on Thursday handed an 11-year jail term to a former official of the widely hated urban management bureau or "chengguan" for corruption, prompting widespread public disillusionment over the government's anti-graft campaign.
Cai Bin, former chief of the ruling Chinese Communist Party for the Panyu district branch of the Guangzhou urban management bureau, was found by the Haizhu District People's Court to have acquired 2 apartments and gathered 2.75 million yuan (U.S. $449,490) in bribes, as well as 600,000 yuan (U.S. $98,070) in "confiscated" property.
He was handed a jail sentence of 11 years and six months.
But Chinese commentators said the case had probably revealed only the tip of the iceberg when it came to Cai's corrupt gains.
Cai had previously been reported to own as many as 22 apartments.
"If he had only managed to amass [that much] as politics and legal secretary of the urban management bureau, then we could say he was a pretty clean official," Guangzhou-based rights lawyer Sui Muqing said in an interview after the sentence was passed.
"I really don't believe this is likely. A lot of pretty ordinary folk have two or three apartments around here, so how many more would an official have?" he said.
"I think someone revealed this, and so they had to put him on trial, and then later on in the process they slashed the amount of bribes and the number of apartments a great deal," Sui said.
Scathing commentary online
Online commentators were scathing about the sentence.
Shenzhen-based rights activist Zhu Jianguo said most people were highly suspicious of the way the authorities had conducted Cai's case.
"Everyone now thinks that this 'apartment uncle' has got off too lightly," Zhu said. "Netizens' biggest suspicion is that there wasn't enough transparency shown in this case."
"How, in fact, was this investigated?"
Zhu said corruption cases against ranking officials are hampered by the fact that the ruling Communist Party's discipline inspection commission insists on investigating cases first.
"This way, the courts will never be able to fight corruption independently," he said. "The discipline inspection commission shouldn't have a monopoly on corruption cases."
"If they do have a monopoly, then people are going to have their suspicions about the probity and fairness with which every corruption case is handled," Zhu said.
Zhu added that a recent directive criminalizing online "rumors" would likely further deter whistle-blowers from reporting graft, as part of president Xi Jiping's anti-corruption drive.
"Actually, netizens who cause officials to be removed over corruption are never praised or rewarded by the government," he said.
'Tigers and flies'
President Xi has that warned corruption could destroy the Party, and has threatened to expose high-ranking officials, or "tigers", along with low-level "flies."
However, analysts say that high-ranking officials are usually pursued for largely political reasons, while those with friends in the right places are unlikely to be touched by the crackdown.
Disgraced Chongqing politician Bo Xilai, whose dramatic trial closed last month amid revelations of a love triangle at the heart of the biggest scandal to rock the Chinese Communist Party in decades, is currently awaiting sentencing for the corruption charges against him.
Bo's trial closed with demands from prosecutors for a "severe" punishment for the former Chongqing Party chief at the heart of a murder and corruption scandal that has shaken the Communist Party since February 2012.
Bo's crimes of bribery, embezzlement, and abuse of power were "extremely serious" and there were no mitigating factors, prosecutors told the Jinan Intermediate People's Court, sparking speculation that Bo's retraction of his earlier confessions to Party investigators might earn him the death penalty.
But commentators said the trial had already greatly reduced the severity of the charges against Bo when it opened, making a severe penalty unlikely.
China scored poorly in an annual global corruption index published last year by Transparency International, ranking 80th out of 176 countries, down five places from the previous year.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.