Zheng Xiaoyu, former director of China's State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA), was sentenced to death by a Beijing court Tuesday morning.
Zheng, 63, was convicted of taking bribes and dereliction of duty, according to the first instance hearing of the Beijing Municipal No. 1 Intermediate People's Court.
He received the death penalty on the graft charge and 7 years in imprisonment for the charge of dereliction of duty. All Zheng's personal property was confiscated and he was deprived of his political rights for life.
The death sentence was appropriate, according to the court, given the "huge bribes involved and the great damage inflicted on the country and the public by Zheng's dereliction of duty".
The bribes taken by Zheng, including cash and gifts, were worth more than 6.49 million yuan (about 850,000 U.S. dollars), according to the court. The bribes were given either directly or through his wife and son.
The court said Zheng "sought benefits" for eight pharmaceutical companies by approving their drugs and medical devices during his tenure as China's chief drug and food official from June 1997 to December 2006.
"(Zheng's acts) greatly undermined the uprightness of an official post and the efficiency of China's drug monitoring and supervision, endangered public life and health and had a very negative social impact," the court said.
Zheng violated reporting rules and decision-making processes when approving medicines from 2001 to 2003. He failed to make careful arrangements for the supervision of medicine production, which is of critical importance to people's lives, said the court.
The consequences of Zheng's dereliction of duty have proved extremely serious. Six types of medicine approved by the administration during that period were fake medicines. Some pharmaceutical companies used false documents to apply for approvals, the court said.
It is not yet known whether Zheng will appeal.
A report in China Business News earlier this month said Zheng's wife, Liu Naixue, and his son, Zheng Hairong, had been arrested for involvement in the case, citing a "well-informed source".
Zheng, born in December 1944, joined the Communist Party of China in November 1979. He majored in biology at Fudan University in Shanghai.
He was the head of the State Pharmaceutical Administration from 1994 to 1998, and head of the State Drug Administration from 1998 to 2003. He was appointed director of the SFDA in May 2003 after it was formed.
Zheng retired in 2005. He first came under investigation by the Communist Party of China's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection in December 2006 and was expelled from the Party in March 2007.
Earlier reports said that Zheng's subordinates had provided evidence against their former boss.
Hao Heping, former director of SFDA's Department of Medical Devices and one of Zheng's former secretaries, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for bribery in November last year.
Cao Wenzhuang, former director of SFDA's Department of Drug Registration and also another former secretary of Zheng, has been under investigation since January of last year.
An official from the CPC Central Commission for Discipline Inspection said: "Zheng's case highlights weaknesses and loopholes in the legal system, the abuse of administrative power, a lack of supervision, and weak anti-corruption attitudes among officials."
Leaders of key departments should rotate positions at fixed intervals to avoid corruption, the official added.
Shao Daosheng, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said China's pharmaceutical industry has become a focus of public dissatisfaction for producing fake and substandard medicines and widely using bribery to sell their drugs to hospitals.
"Commercial bribery is widespread in the pharmaceutical industry, as indecent manufacturers buy licenses from corrupt regulators," Shao said.