Chinese drug exec given suspended death sentence

November 9, 2011 - 6:30 AM

BEIJING (AP) — A Shanghai court handed the former chief executive of a large state-owned pharmaceutical company a suspended death sentence for corruption that enabled him to amass more than 50 million yuan ($8 million), an official said Wednesday.

Wu Jianwen, the former head of Shanghai Pharmaceutical Group Ltd., was convicted of accepting bribes, embezzling public funds and other graft charges by the Shanghai Intermediate People's Court, according to a court official surnamed Wang.

Wang said the court handed down a suspended death sentence with a two-year reprieve. Such sentences usually are commuted to life in prison with good behavior.

The punishment comes as China wrestles with food and product safety concerns and appears aimed at showing that the authorities are cracking down on rampant corruption.

Shanghai Pharma says it is China's third largest pharmaceutical maker and second largest distributor of pharmaceutical products. It was the parent company of Shanghai Hualian Pharmaceutical Co., which drug authorities shut down in 2007 for making tainted leukemia drugs blamed for causing leg pains and partial paralysis among dozens of patients.

China's increasing importance as a pharmaceutical producer has ratcheted up concerns over a slew of scandals involving fake, adulterated and otherwise unsafe drugs — especially given the thriving market in mail order medications.

In 2007, China executed Zheng Xiaoyu, the former head of the country's food and drug regulatory authority, after he was convicted of taking bribes to approve flawed medicine blamed for several deaths.

The punishment became a symbol of a product safety crisis which had been triggered by the discovery of potentially deadly substances in exports, from pet food ingredients to fish.