- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 12, 2005

BEIJING — China’s commitment to reform its criminal justice system has come under renewed scrutiny amid accusations that it deferred the execution of one of its billionaires in return for money.

Yuan Baojing was one of many Chinese businessmen who benefited from a startlingly rapid rags-to-riches rise in the past 15 years.

But then he paid his brothers and cousins to murder a former employee who was blackmailing him.

Sentenced to die by firing squad, he was due to be executed on Oct. 14.

After the date passed and the sentence was not carried out, it emerged that, the day before the execution date, his wife transferred ownership of shares worth 49.5 billion yuan, about $5 million, to the government.

An order to suspend the sentence was rushed to his prison just as he was about to be taken to the execution ground.

As news of the curious coincidence seeped out, and was even reported in state-run business magazines, a storm of protest erupted on Internet discussion forums, the only place for public debate in China.

The timing of Mr. Yuan’s stay of execution, which may yet be temporary only, could not be more unfortunate for China’s legal system.

The country is still reeling after a succession of cases of wrongful convictions, mostly involving the use of police brutality to extract confessions.

In two cases, women reportedly killed by poor peasants — one of whom was executed — later turned up safe and well.

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