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Retrial upholds jail for man who shed light on abuse in Chinese graft probes

Wilson Wang was taken away by Chinese anti-corruption investigators on April 10, 2015.

PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY THE GLOBE AND MAIL

More than two years after Wilson Wang disappeared into the murky world of China's anti-graft campaign, he wants to give up. "I'm not going to appeal," the former tobacco executive shouted in court Friday, according to three people who heard him speak after a retrial upheld his conviction for corruption.

"He said he is not going to appeal because he does not trust the system any more," his wife, Jean Zou, said.

Mr. Wang was sentenced last August to six years in prison for accepting bribes as a senior figure in Wuhu Cigarette Factory, a company in east-central China's Anhui province. He claimed that he was psychologically tortured into confessing guilt by graft investigators, and his case has offered a window into abuse in China's prosecution of a sweeping anti-corruption campaign, which Beijing has also extended abroad to countries including Canada.

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The couple's legal struggles have drawn in Canada, too. Ms. Zou is a Canadian citizen who has petitioned Justin Trudeau to intervene, part of a campaign to pressure the Chinese government into setting her husband free.

Mr. Wang spent 54 days being interrogated by China's graftbusters, who, he told his lawyers, used sleep deprivation and other tactics to pressure him into confessing through a system of internal party discipline called shuanggui. In court, he said he was also beaten out of view of video cameras and once stripped naked, until he agreed to tell interrogators he had accepted bribes. He later recanted the confession, saying it had been tortured out of him.

After being sentenced to jail he won a reprieve this spring, when an upper court ordered a retrial, saying "the facts of the former judgment were found to be unclear, and the evidence was found to be insufficient." A new trial was held in May.

Less than two months later, the Wuhu City Jinghu District People's Court returned a 35-page verdict Friday. It concluded Mr. Wang is "guilty of the charge of accepting bribes." It upheld his prison sentence and a $76,000 fine.

The retrial was held at a court governed by the same judicial panel that rendered the initial decision.

"The whole case involving Wilson Wang illustrates how Chinese criminal justice works," said Maya Wang, who has extensively studied China's graftbusting efforts as China researcher with Human Rights Watch.

"There are judges, there is a court, there are lawyers and so on. But the problem is that beneath the surface, none of that offers much justice. So a retrial is not a real retrial. A judge is not a real judge," she said.

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"All of that seems to be designed to fool the public and the international community that there is the rule of law in China."

The case against Mr. Wang hangs heavily on oral testimony, with little documentary evidence of bribes. His defence lawyers, however, failed to convince the court to disregard some of the witness statements against him.

In particular, the Wuhu court accepted the testimony of Ji Ruinan, a businessman who confessed to giving Mr. Wang a series of bribes, including one he said was made at a time, defence lawyers later revealed, Mr. Wang was in Romania for work. Mr. Wang had proof: a picture taken with now-president Xi Jinping, who visited Eastern Europe while he was there.

Video recordings also showed Mr. Ji telling investigators that, "what I said before, in the investigation, I lied." Mr. Wang's lawyers have held that up as proof he was concocting evidence. The court found otherwise, saying Mr. Ji's statement referred to lies he made prior to giving testimony. "The court finds that what Ji Ruinan reported about bribing [Wilson] Wang was objective and real," it said.

The court also discounted Mr. Wang's allegations of torture and the subsequent retraction of his confession, citing his "continuous and stable expression" on videotaped recordings, and his fingerprint acknowledgment at the time that he had not been subjected to illegal gathering of evidence.

"There is no reasonable explanation for the retraction of his confession at trial," the court wrote.

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Mr. Wang has 10 days to appeal, and Ms. Zou said she intends to disregard his court outburst and continue to seek a favourable ruling. Earlier this week, she wrote the United Nations Human Rights Council to file a complaint that her husband was tortured.

"We want to fight," she said. "When we fight, we can tell everyone Wilson is innocent. And if we disclose everything people will say the system is is not fair. If you don't fight, how can people know that?"

What is 'shuanggui', and why did it send this Chinese man to prison?
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About the Author
Asia Bureau Chief

Nathan VanderKlippe is the Asia correspondent for The Globe and Mail. He was previously a print and television correspondent in Western Canada based in Calgary, Vancouver and Yellowknife, where he covered the energy industry, aboriginal issues and Canada’s north.He is the recipient of a National Magazine Award and a Best in Business award from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. More

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