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Chinese authorities have ruled that those found guilty of high-sum embezzlement or bribe-taking could now face execution. The move is part of China's anti-corruption campaign, but the punishment will not be mandatory.
Graft cases involving an "extraordinarily huge value" of three million yuan ($463,000; 409,700 euros) or more may incur the death penalty, the Supreme People's Court and China's prosecuting body on Monday.
Officials who are found guilty of such "extremely serious cases" will be eligible for the penalty if their actions "caused extremely vile social impact and extremely significant losses to the state's and the people's interests," China's Xinhua news agency cited their joint "judicial explanation" as saying.
The courts intended to punish corruption "with severity according to the law," but will dole out the death sentences "in a resolute manner," reported Xinhua. They added that capital punishment will be an option for China's party-controlled courts, but will not be mandatory for each "extreme" case.
Three years ago, President Xi Jinping launched a highly publicized anti-corruption campaign to purge high-ranking "tiger" officials as well as low-level "flies." The campaign surprised analysts by striking at a more senior level than expected, but no Communist Party officials have been reportedly executed for graft since Xi took office.
The crackdown swept up numerous senior officials in the party, government and military, as well as state-owned companies. Former security chief Zhou Yongkang was convicted of bribery, abuse of power and leaking state secrets. He was, however, sentenced to life imprisonment.
Suspended death sentences which are commuted to a life term have already been handed out in several severe cases.
Monday's ruling also expanded the definition of bribery for government officials, including debt forgiveness and receiving gifts even without a specific request at the time.
rs/jil (AFP, dpa)