BEIJING (AP) — A former Chinese official at the center of a sex tape scandal was convicted of taking more than 3.1 million yuan ($500,000) in bribes and sentenced to 13 years in prison Friday, at a time when China’s new generation of leadership has vowed to crack down on widespread graft.
Lei Zhengfu, former party chief of a district in the south-central metropolis of Chongqing, did not say whether he would appeal the verdict by the city’s No. 1 Intermediate Court, according to state media. His punishment also includes confiscation of personal assets of 300,000 yuan ($48,000).
Lei’s case has riveted the public since video clips went viral of the portly 55-year-old having sex with a 25-year-old woman hired by property developers, allegedly in an elaborate extortion scheme. As more lurid details emerged, the scandal has exposed the shady intertwining of sex, money and power.
The sex extortion scheme has ensnarled at least 20 other party cadres, but Lei appears to have been singled out — partly because he has been especially vulnerable to public derision. Lei’s receding hairline, pop eyes, bushy eyebrows and wide jowls provided a caricature for public corruption and moral degradation widely detested by the public.
Beijing Institute of Technology law professor Xu Xin said the sentence was more severe than those in earlier corruption cases involving similar amounts of bribes.
“Maybe because of the case’s social impact, the court has chosen to be on the harsh end with its sentence,” he said.
When blackmailed with the sex video, Lei asked another property developer who had benefited from his patronage to pay hush money of 3 million yuan. Lei argued that the money was a loan, but prosecutors said the money — which was not fully repaid — amounted to a bribe.
Prosecutors also said Lei took two other bribes — one of $10,000 and another of 100,000 yuan ($16,000) — in return for favors granted through his government position, but it is Lei’s sex scandal and the scheme behind it that have captivated member of the Chinese public, who are disgusted by what they see as the moral degradation of those in power.
In a separate case, a district court on Friday afternoon sentenced Xiao Ye, the man convicted of masterminding the extortion scheme, to 10 years in prison.
The woman in the sex tape, Zhao Hongxia, was given a two-year sentence that was suspended for two years and could eventually be reduced. The official People’s Court Daily said Xiao plans to make an appeal but Zhao does not.