HONG KONG—Authorities in Beijing have sentenced to death a former head of the country’s food and drug regulator for taking bribes to approve substandard medications, official media reported.
Zheng Xiaoyu was sentenced to death by the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court for taking bribes worth more than U.S. $832,000 during his tenure at the State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA) from 1998-2005, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
The 62-year-old former pharmaceutical manufacturer had allowed eight companies to gain approval that would otherwise have failed, it said. One substandard antibiotic had caused the deaths of at least 10 people.
China is struggling to improve regulatory standards amid a wave of fake and shoddy pharmaceuticals and foodstuffs.
This is a typical corruption case...But the issue of fake medicines and faulty foodstuffs perpetrated by monopolies in league with corrupt officials really affects ordinary people, so a lot of people are watching this case both in China and even overseas.
The court said Zheng failed to make careful arrangements for the supervision of medicine production, which is of critical importance to people’s lives. The judgment said six types of medicine approved by the agency were fake, and pharmaceutical companies were able to win approvals using fake documents.
Zheng’s actions had greatly undermined the efficiency of China’s drug monitoring and supervision, endangered public life and health, and had a "very negative" social impact, the court said, concluding that the death sentence was appropriate in such circumstances.
In China’s judicial system, a death sentence passed in an intermediate court is automatically subject to review by a higher court and the supreme court.
However, appeals courts in practice rarely overturn such high-profile convictions.
Zheng appeared on state television flanked by two guards as the verdict was read out.
“This is a typical corruption case," said Zhang Weiguo, former editor of the Shanghai-based World Economic Herald and currently editor-in-chief of New Century Net.
"But the issue of fake medicines and faulty foodstuffs perpetrated by monopolies in league with corrupt officials really affects ordinary people, so a lot of people are watching this case both in China and even overseas,” Zhang said. “The Party also needs to make a sacrifice ahead of the 17th Party Congress, so they are cutting off his head to thank heaven that they are still in power.”
China executes more people per year than the rest of the world put together, although the death sentence is rarely handed out to such a high-ranking official. The last official of Zheng’s rank to be executed was the deputy governor of Anhui province, in 2003.
In recent months, tainted Chinese pet food ingredients have been blamed for the deaths of cats and dogs in North America, and toothpaste from China mixed with an industrial chemical has been found on shelves in Central America and the Caribbean.
The same chemical, diethylene glycol, was cited in the deaths since October of at least 51 people in Panama. The SFDA will play a role by blacklisting food producers who break safety rules.
Original reporting by RFA’s Mandarin and Cantonese services. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Written and produced for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.