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Ex-academician gets 12 years for embezzlement

By Cao Yin | China Daily | Updated: 2020-01-04 08:25


Professor, associate siphoned off research funds to companies under their control

A former academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering was sentenced to 12 years in prison on Friday for embezzlement of research funds.

The Songyuan Intermediate People's Court, Jilin province, announced the sentence of Li Ning, also an ex-professor specializing in biology at the China Agricultural University, and fined him 3 million yuan ($430,000).

Zhang Lei, a former associate researcher who worked with Li at the university, was sentenced to five years and eight months in prison and fined 200,000 yuan for the same criminal charge, the court's ruling said, adding the two defendants' corrupt gains were confiscated and turned over to the national treasury.

The court said that from July 2008 to February 2012, Li took advantage of his professor's job and various positions he held. As head of the university's agricultural biology technology laboratory, a national-level lab, Li and Zhang managed funds for scientific research projects. The pair embezzled over 37.56 million yuan by faking bills or falsifying expenses.

The embezzled money was transferred by Li and Zhang to accounts controlled by Li for investment in several other companies, the court ruling said.

According to the latest scientific research funds management rules, over 3.45 million yuan of the 37.56 million yuan was considered illegal gains instead of embezzlement. The amount embezzled by Li and Zhang was finally identified to be more than 34.1 million yuan, the verdict said.

The court showed leniency to Li after taking into consideration that some of the embezzled funds had been recovered. Zhang was also shown leniency after he confessed his crime.

The case aroused public attention in 2014 after Li, then a leading academician, was placed under investigation for allegedly swindling the country's scientific research funds. A year later, the academy terminated Li's academician qualification after a review.

Due to the complexity of the case and the flexibility of the research fund policies, the case spanned five years and two trials. The latest hearing was opened on Dec 30, the court said in the statement, adding that the legal process was in line with the Criminal Procedure Law.

During the trials, Li did not confess to any charges, claiming the money and companies were both used for his research.

"But evidence provided by prosecutors and our investigation showed that most of the money was used by him for investments, and the companies he invested in had conducted no scientific research by the time he was put under investigation," said the judge in charge of the case.

"The companies involved, meanwhile, were neither set up by Li's university nor engaged in academic projects, and the university knew nothing about their establishment."

Although Li and Zhang made contributions to national scientific developments, "no one can be above the law," he added.

The court did not disclose if the two would appeal to a higher court.

Gao Mingxuan, a law professor at Renmin University of China, said: "Corruption in any industry should be punished by law. Scientific or educational industries are no exception."

"It not only upheld justice, the ruling also showed the country's determination to fight corruption and will play a role in regulating the use of research funds," Gao added.

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