The former head of China's ruling soccer body has denied some of the bribery charges leveled against him, saying that he was tortured and forced to confess to crimes he didn't commit, official media reported on Wednesday.
Xie Yalong, 56, was charged with taking more than 1.7 million yuan (U.S.$273,000) in bribes during his directorship of China's Football Administrative Center, the official English-language China Daily said, quoting court documents from the trial in the northeastern Chinese city of Dandong.
Authorities say that Xie accepted bribes from companies, clubs and individuals on 12 occasions between 1998 and 2008, including 178,400 yuan (U.S. $28,000) from a China executive at the U.S. sportswear company, Nike.
But his defense team is calling for Xie's confessions to be disqualified as evidence, saying they were obtained through the use of force.
"Xie Yalong described how ... prosecution officials forced a confession out of him by attacking him with electric batons, beating him, stripping him naked, and pouring freezing water on his head," Xie's defense lawyer Jin Xiaoguang told reporters outside the Dandong Intermediate People's Court on Tuesday.
Xie had been taken to a guesthouse in Liaoning county by officials from the Dandong procuratorate, the state prosecution office, Jin said.
"They refused to let him sleep, and they threatened to hand him back to the police if he didn't say [what they wanted]," he said.
"We have repeatedly requested in court that it investigate the legality of some of the evidence and the [allegations] of forced confessions," he said. "The extraction of confessions through torture and the illegal gathering of evidence is forbidden under our national law."
"Xie said that most of his confessions were forced out of him," Jin said, adding that the authorities had also illegally detained his wife and refused him access to a lawyer during interrogation.
Fellow defense lawyer Chen Gang said Xie had been denied his right to see a lawyer for more than 10 months. "There is a genuine suspicion that there has been a breach of the law," Chen told reporters
Soccer corruption crackdown
Xie's sister, who declined to be named, said she had been given a pass to attend the trial.
"I have always found it hard to believe that my brother would do such things," she told local media. "I have always thought he had been framed and coerced, but I never thought it would be like that, with an electric cattle prod."
"We are definitely going to pursue this complaint," she added. "They must face up to society; this can't be allowed to be covered up."
Professor Yuan Dan of Beijing's Sports University, who taught Xie while he was a student there, said there were still many problems endemic in China's push to become one of the world's top sporting nations, in spite of attempts to make the state-sponsored machinery of sport more open and transparent.
"If you treat sport as a way of pursuing political and economic gain, then you can't really be surprised if there is corruption," Yuan said.
He said there should be greater awareness of the role of sport, and its limitations, in society.
"It's not just a question of one or two officials becoming more aware; it needs to be something that is understood and recognized by everybody," Yuan said.
Xie has been the highest-ranking former soccer official to be tried in the wake of a two-year crackdown on corruption in Chinese soccer.
Xie's successor Nan Yong will also stand trial on Wednesday in the northeastern city of Tieling.
Dozens of high-ranking soccer officials, referees and players have been charged with bribe-taking since the clampdown began.
Reported by He Ping for RFA's Mandarin service and by Wei Ling and Pan Jiaqing for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.