China sentenced the former head of its food and drugs agency to death for corruption on Tuesday in a surprise judgment as the government sought to contain a wave of scandals over health safety.
Zheng Xiaoyu, former head of the State Food and Drug Administration, was convicted on charges of taking bribes and dereliction of duty, Xinhua news agency reported, citing the Beijing Municipal No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court.
The sentence, which was unusually harsh, could still be reduced on appeal. But it reflects the weight China’s top leaders are giving to the issues of corruption and food safety as they grapple with the fallout overseas after a series of safety breaches involving toxins in food and other products.
Zheng was supposed to use the power given to him by the state and the people seriously and honestly, but instead he has ignored their vital interests … by taking the bribes,” Xinhua quoted the court as saying.
“This has threatened the safety of people’s life and health and has caused an extremely bad social impact.”
Zheng, 62, a native of the southeastern province of Fujian, headed the watchdog agency from 1998 to 2005 after rising through the ranks of state-owned pharmaceutical companies.