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Originally published April 10, 2013 at 4:59 AM | Page modified April 10, 2013 at 6:17 AM

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China's ex-train boss charged in bribery case

The man who spearheaded China's showcase bullet train network has been charged with taking bribes and abusing his power, two years after he was ousted from his job as railways minister.

Associated Press

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BEIJING —

The man who spearheaded China's showcase bullet train network has been charged with taking bribes and abusing his power, two years after he was ousted from his job as railways minister.

A court press office official said prosecutors submitted the lawsuit against Liu Zhijun on Wednesday morning. "The date of the trial will be released in due time," said the press officer at the Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People's Court, who refused to give his name, as is common with Chinese officials.

Liu, 60, was appointed railways minister in 2003 and dismissed in February 2011 for unspecified discipline violations. He was also stripped of his position as the ministry's Communist Party chief.

The indictment accuses Liu of using his status as a state official to seek benefits for others and of accepting large financial incentives, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. It also said that malpractice and abuse of power by Liu caused huge financial losses for the state.

The case is one of China's biggest graft investigations and highlights rampant corruption in the railways, which many Chinese depend on. However, it is less sensitive for China's leaders than the case of Bo Xilai, a high-ranking politician brought down in spectacular style last year following his wife's involvement in the murder of a British businessman. The former member of the Communist Party's powerful Politburo dropped from view a year ago and charges against him have yet to be announced.

Steve Tsang, director of the China Policy Institute at the University of Nottingham, said new Chinese leader Xi Jinping can use the Liu case to burnish his anticorruption credentials. Xi, who was named Communist Party leader in November and became president in March in a once-a-decade leadership change, has vowed to root out official corruption that has enraged many ordinary Chinese.

"Mr. Liu is in a much weaker situation compared with Bo Xilai," said Tsang. "He is not really in a position to not play ball with the leadership," he said.

"He's merely a minister. They execute ministers in China. They don't execute Politburo members."

Liu led the rapid growth of China's bullet train network, which has become the world's biggest. Following Liu's firing and a fatal crash in July 2011 that killed some 40 people, the government scaled back ambitious expansion plans.

Even before the 2011 disaster, the bullet train was a target of critics who said it was dangerously fast and too expensive for a society where the poor majority need more low-cost transportation, not record-setting speeds. The projects added to the railway ministry's mountain of debt that now totals in the hundreds of billions of dollars.

Last month, the government announced it was dismantling the Ministry of Railways and separating its regulatory and commercial arms to reduce bureaucracy and boost efficiency. Reform-minded Chinese leaders and officials had been trying to do that for 15 years, but the ministry used its ties to the military and its record, including building the high-speed rail system - a symbol of national pride - to delay change.

"It's not surprising to see such corruption in the railway system that was operated under a monopoly without proper regulatory monitoring," said Yang Yang, a professor at the Politics and Public Management Institute at the China University of Political Science and Law.

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