Chinese Official Is Accused of Taking Carmaker's Bribes

Journalist Made the Charges But Now Government Is Cracking Down on Whistleblowers Too

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A senior official with China's economic planning ministry and his son took bribes from a Guangzhou carmaker, including kickbacks for helping to approve the opening of a Toyota Motor Corp. dealership, a Chinese prosecutor said Wednesday.

Liu Tienan, 59, former deputy head of the National Development and Reform Commission, and his son Liu Decheng took 35.6 million yuan ($5.8 million) in bribes from 2002 to 2012, according to postings on Langfang City Intermediate People's Court's microblog at the start of their corruption trial Wednesday.

The senior Mr. Liu took money from Guangzhou Automobile Group Co. to help secure regulatory approval for automobile and engine projects for its venture with Toyota, according to the postings. His son got a job at Guangzhou Auto unit upon request from Mr. Liu and received a salary of 1.2 million yuan without working there, the court said. Mr. Liu's son was also paid 10 million yuan after Mr. Liu helped a person set up a Guangzhou Auto-Toyota dealership, it said.

A defense lawyer told the court that the prosecutors' allegations are groundless, according to the court's postings.

President Xi Jinping's anti-corruption campaign to net both "tigers and flies," parlance for cadres from the top to bottom ranks, has trapped officials across all of China's provinces and largest cities. It has also ensnared foreign companies such as GlaxoSmithKline, which was fined almost $500 million after a bribery investigation that had lasted almost 15 months.

A Guangzhou Auto spokesperson declined to comment. Toyota spokesman Naoki Sumino said by phone that the company was checking on the report and couldn't immediately comment.

A successful prosecution of Mr. Liu would vindicate public claims made against him by a journalist months before his downfall from a ministry with control over a vast swathe of the economy. Mr. Liu was stripped in 2013 of his position at the NDRC, which approves infrastructure projects and controls energy prices, after Luo Changping, deputy managing editor of Caijing Magazine, posted allegations on his Weibo microblog in December 2012.

Mr. Luo, an investigative journalist who has written a book about corruption, said in his posts that the official exaggerated his academic credentials and that his son received payments in U.S. and Canadian dollars into bank accounts from a business executive. The Communist Party's disciplinary body announced via state-controlled Xinhua News Agency in May 2013 that Liu was the subject of an official probe.

Since then, however, the party has taken a harder line against those using Sina Corp.'s Weibo service to act as whistleblowers or express views it considers subversive, even as the party's discipline body has continued with its anti-corruption campaign. Charles Xue, a venture capitalist who talked about sensitive topics to his millions of followers on Weibo, was detained in August 2013 on charges of visiting prostitutes. Released for medical reasons in April, he was first seen publicly on June 21, the China Youth Daily reported a day later.

The government in June released rules barring domestic journalists from writing stories without the approval of their employer or in different areas than they normally cover, according to Xinhua. The regulations prevent journalists from setting up their own websites or starting public relations companies, it said.

--Bloomberg News---