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Bribery burns officials overseeing coal industry

By CAO YIN | China Daily | Updated: 2022-01-20 11:16

Though coal brought economic growth to North China's Inner Mongolia autonomous region, the resource also caused the downfall of a number of local officials, according to a documentary that aired on Tuesday.

Some of the corrupt officials served in high-level positions that handled the commodity in the coal-rich region, according to the fourth episode of the documentary series Zero Tolerance, broadcast by China Central Television.

Coal company owners often surrounded the officials as they demanded government approval for buying coal, replacing coal fields or promoting projects for coal transformation, it said.

"The biggest temptation was the power to make the approval. If you couldn't resist it, your final destination would be prison," Bai Xiangqun, former vice-chairman of the regional government, said in the episode.

Bai was sentenced to 16 years in prison for multiple crimes, including bribery and corruption, in 2019.Twenty of the 37 people who offered him bribes were involved in the coal industry.

Yun Guangzhong, former mayor of Ordos, a city with about one-sixth of the country's coal resources, experienced a similar situation, having accepted bribes of more than 37 million yuan ($5.8 million) from a coal enterprise.

"Not only myself, but my family and friends were 'hunted' by coal companies. The result was that neither my generation nor our next generation controlled ourselves," Yun, who was given a 14-year prison term for taking bribes worth more than 94.3 million yuan, said in the documentary.

In 2010, for example, a coal enterprise wanted to change to a better field with larger reserves and higher quality resources. To get Yun's approval, the company's boss visited his family.

Hao Shenhai, the businessman involved, said: "When I went to Yun's home, his wife told me there was a high-voltage tower in the yard, affecting people's sleep and health. It was a hint that they didn't want to live there anymore."

The next time Hao visited Yun's residence, he carried a suitcase with 2 million yuan in cash, and later he provided money and gifts worth about 3 million yuan to Yun's wife and son. In return, he obtained a better coal field.

China's coal industry witnessed a golden decade of rapid growth from 2002 to 2012, which was also the best period of economic development in Inner Mongolia, home to the world's largest open-pit coal mine.

However, coal-related corruption driven by entrenched interests became serious.

To figure out how many irregularities existed in the regional coal industry, a campaign was launched in February 2020, involving all coal mines established since 2000 and covering every step including project approval, investment review, resource allocation and environmental evaluation.

Meanwhile, officials who worked for or retired from regional Party and government agencies as well as State-owned enterprises were ordered to say whether they had invested in the coal industry.

As of October, 1,023 officials had been probed for discipline and legal violations, with 839 suspects in coal-related economic cases captured.

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