A court in the southwestern Chinese city of Chongqing on Friday handed a 13-year jail term to a former ruling Chinese Communist Party official who became embroiled in a highly publicized sex tape scandal for bribery, official media reported.
Lei Zhengfu was removed from his post as party secretary of the city's Beibei district after video of him having sex with an 18-year-old woman made the rounds on China's scandal-obsessed Internet.
He was found guilty of taking advantage of his position, providing help to local companies in exchange for bribes from March 2007 to November 2012, according to a statement issued by the Chongqing No. 1 Intermediate People's Court. Lei was also fined 300,000 yuan (U.S. $48,554).
The case against Lei was based on his request that a local businessman surnamed Ming lend 3 million yuan (U.S. $486,000) to the young woman in February 2008 after she and blackmailer Xiao Ye demanded the money, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
It described Xiao as "a man who conspired with others to lure officials into having sex with women and secretly recorded their trysts in order to blackmail them."
The loan was a desperate bid on Lei's part to prevent his sex video with Zhao Hongxia from being made public, and the loan was never repaid, the court statement said.
Lei was also accused of accepting 60,000 yuan (U.S. $10,000) and a watch from a businessman surnamed Yin at the cost of securing support funds for Yin's company in July 2011, although Lei later surrendered the watch, it said.
"Lei used his position to obtain benefits for others and accepted bribes totaling more than 3.16 million yuan. His activities constituted the crime of bribery," the court statement said.
Lei is reportedly mulling an appeal, Xinhua said.
The sex video of Zhao and the paunchy 55-year-old was posted online in November, sending waves of scandalous delight and anger over official misbehavior across the Chinese Internet.
Lei was later dismissed and detained by police on Feb. 1, while the Party expelled him in early May.
The court also sentenced Xiao and accomplice Xu Sheqing to 10 and four years' imprisonment, respectively, on the same day for extortion, while Zhao was handed a two-year suspended sentence.
Three others were sentenced to jail terms of 18 months to four years for blackmailing officials. The six blackmailers were tried separately from Lei.
"The sex video case should be a profound lesson for other government officials," Xinhua quoted Southwest University of Political Science and Law professor Zhou Zucheng as saying.
Shenzhen-based rights activist and current affairs commentator Zhu Jianguo said the sentence was too lenient.
"This is probably the first official to be put on trial over a sex scandal in the whole country, and the result hasn't lived up to our expectations," he said.
"The amounts Lei Zhengfu accepted in bribes weren't large, but the awful thing is that his behavior is typical [of Chinese officials], so we were hoping he'd get at least 20 years," Zhu said.
"A mere 13 years doesn't carry enough shock value. I know some entrepreneurs who have got 12 years just for 70,000 yuan (U.S. $11,400) in bribes."
But Beijing-based investigative journalist Zhu Ruifeng, who runs the whistle-blowing website Supervision by the People, and who was the first to publish the five-year-old video last year, said it made no difference whether the sentence was heavy or light.
"The court is trying to gauge public feeling, and if the sentence had been too lenient, then that would spark more debate and further supervision of officials by netizens and the general public," he said.
"If it had been too high, Lei Zhengfu would have been upset, and might have exposed around 20 others who haven't been dealt with yet," Zhu Ruifeng said.
"So we don't feel satisfied or dissatisfied [with the sentence]."
He said he had access to information about a large number of similarly compromised officials, who had yet to be publicly exposed.
He said the authorities in Chongqing had waived charges against at least 10 suspects, who included officials and high-ranking executives in state-owned enterprises.
President Xi Jinping has warned that the Communist Party must beat graft or lose power, sparking a nationwide clampdown on corruption.
However, political analysts say that officials with friends in the right places are unlikely to be touched by the crackdown, and reports suggest many are liquidating their assets and making moves overseas.
"They announced publicly that they would move against all corrupt officials ... but recently we have seen articles in Xinhua and the [state-run] People's Daily saying that some local level officials have been wrongly accused," Zhu Jianguo said.
"There was another article saying that basically all high-ranking officials are against corruption," he added. "They probably think they'll never beat it, so they may as well mend reputations."
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 Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.