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Two Former Chinese Officials Receive Jail Terms for River Pollution

BEIJING, China

Two former local environmental officials in China’s south Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region were found guilty of dereliction of duty and sentenced to jail terms for a 2013 river pollution incident.

The officials, former director of Hezhou City Bureau of Environmental Protection (HCBEP) Mo Sijian and former head of HCBEP’s environmental monitoring team Tang Chuancheng, were sentenced to terms of two years and 18 months, respectively, according to the Babu District people’s court.

Mo was found guilty of accepting bribes, including lavish meals and entertainment, from the owners of ore processor Huiwei, which was found to be polluting the Hejiang River with heavy metals, while Tang, on Mo's order, helped the company obtain permits for wastewater discharges that it should not have been granted, the court statement said.

This led to extensive pollution that caused significant damage to public and private property, according to the court. The pollution was discovered in July 2013, when fish started dying in the river, and subsequent investigations revealed that the river had been polluted with thallium and cadmium.

The government subsequently warned residents against using water or eating fish from the river. It also warned the local drinking water plant against using the river as a raw water source.

The Hejiang River is a major tributary of the Xijiang River, which in turn is a major tributary of the Pearl River. The Pearl is one of the main water sources for Guangdong Province, Hong Kong and Macau.

An estimated 35,000 people were affected by the contamination, and were unable to use the river’s waters for approximately three weeks.

In August, seven employees of Huiwei Ore-processing Company were arrested for environmental violations. One of the employees -- a man identified only as Gong -- had converted the qualified ore-processing plant and illegally installed an indium production line in May. This caused the plant to discharge toxic contaminants without proper treatment or disposal, according to local police.

China’s southern Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region has been cracking down on pollution in recent years. Last year, dozens of people were either arrested or sentenced in conjunction with river pollution cases.

In July 2013, several courts in the region handed down jail sentences for 13 people, including three government environmental officials.

Former vice director of the Hechi city environmental protection bureau Zeng Juefa was sentenced by the Dahua County court in Hechi city to a four-and-a-half year prison term for dereliction of duty and taking bribes totaling some $7,300 USD, while the Liubei district court of Liuzhou City sentenced both Lan Qunfeng and Wei Yi, former heads of a district environmental inspection team under the environmental protection bureau of Jinchengjiang District, Hechi City, to jail terms of three-and-a-half years for the same crimes.

The other 10 people imprisoned were managers at companies found to be responsible for contamination. Three managers from Guangxi Jinhe Mining Co. Ltd., which was also fined about $162,000 USD, were sentenced to three-year jail terms by the Jinchengjiang District court in Hechi.

Seven managers at Hongquan Lithophone Material Co., Ltd. received three- to five-year sentences.

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