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Home > Bribery
Corrupt Chinese drug administrators jailed or executed, whose family members ended up in jail

In two corruption cases a decade apart, two governmental officials from the China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA) were heavily punished for taking bribes and endangering the lives of many Chinese Citizens.  Not only were they punished, so were their family members.


Mr. YIN Hongzhang and his families


On January 3, 2017, Mr. YIN Hongzhang, the former deputy director of the biological products division under the regulator’s drug registration department, was sentenced to 10 years and fined 500,000 yuan (US$71,900) for taking bribes from vaccine manufacturers. The manufactures obtained regulatory approvals from Mr. Yin for their products, including those for treating severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and bird flu.


From 2002 to 2015, Yin and his family had accepted a total of 3.56 million yuan in bribes either through cash or in the form of expensive and exotic gifts, such as ivory. According to the state-run Xinhua News Agency, several pharmaceutical companies in Shanghai and Zhejiang province had paid Yin in return for faster drug approvals or to bypass the approval process entirely, obtaining permits for shots without complete medical trials.  Regarded as accomplices, Yin’s wife received a three-year sentence, while their son received a two-year sentence.

According to the testimony of one pharmaceutical company head during Yin’s trial, Yin once demanded 350,000 yuan to buy a villa in an undisclosed location and renovate his apartment in Beijing.  In return, Yin had “taken care of the approvals” for the firm’s vaccines for SARS, bird flu, and H1N1 influenza, also known as swine flu.  Court documents also show another incident where Yin helped a pharmaceutical company win approval for a shot that hadn’t completed the required trials because the company’s contribution of 1 million yuan in cash to Yin’s son.  The pharmaceutical company also put Yin’s son on one of its subsidiary companies’ payroll, providing him with a constant stream of “salaries” since 2010, without Yin’s son ever reporting for work.


Yin had also accepted kickbacks from another pharmaceutical company that had failed to gain approvals.  He then proceeded to reduce the company’s waiting time during their second round of applications.  Court documents show Yin reduced the company’s waiting time by at least three years.


Yin was taken into custody pending investigations in April 2015 after two whistleblowers revealed his corrupt practices.  He was removed from his post two months later.


The sentencing came less than a year after a massive vaccine scandal rattled patients across China.  In this scandal, a mother-daughter duo in Shandong province were arrested in March for selling nearly 310 million yuan worth of expired and improperly stored vaccines in 17 cities and provinces.

After the case came to light, parents shocked by the news refused locally made vaccination shots, with media reports showing that some families were taking their children to Hong Kong for their vaccinations.  As a result, the central government pledged stricter scrutiny over vaccine manufacturing and distribution to placate the furious public.  Nearly 360 officials linked to the case were demoted or removed from their posts, 200 suspects were detained in the following month.


Mr. ZHENG Xiaoyu and his families


Zheng Xiaoyu (December 21, 1944 - July 10, 2007), former director of the CFDA of China, was executed on July 10, 2007 for taking bribes.


Zheng was director of the State Pharmaceutical Administration from 1994 to 1998, head of the State Drug Administration from 1998 to 2003, and director of the China Food and Drug Administration from 2003 to 2005.


In May 2007, Zheng was convicted of taking bribes and dereliction of duty and sentenced to death.  These corrupt practices are believed to have led to 40 deaths in Panama, where they cough syrup contained di-ethylene glycol, rather than glycerin.  Zheng had been convicted of personally approving unsafe medicines after taking bribes from eight pharmaceutical companies totaling more than RMB 6.49 million (USD 850,000).  The expedited process resulted in at least a hundred patient deaths, directly and indirectly.  Some on the Chinese internet claim the death count to be in the thousands.

It was also found that during Zheng’s eight-year reign of power over the drug administration, he personally ordered approvals for more than 150,000 new medicines, 134 times the amount the U.S. FDA approves each year (on average, ca. 140 new medicines annually).  Most of those 150,000 medicines were the products of the eight pharmaceutical companies that bribed Zheng.  Among these 150,000 medicines approved, there was one medication made by Anhui Hua Yuan Company, since closed, resulting in the death of 14 patients, the permanent disablement of hundreds, and serious illness of several thousand more. Anhui Hua Yuan's CEO committed suicide before his arrest.  


Cao Wenzhuang, a former director of the same agency's department dealing with drug registrations was also sentenced to death in the first week of July, 2007 for dereliction of duty and accepting bribes.  Cao had accepted more than two million yuan (about USD 250,000), receiving a two-year "reprieved" death sentence as a result.  This is “a ruling that usually results in the death sentence being commuted to life in prison if the convict is deemed to have reformed."


Similarly, arrangements were also made for Zheng’s son, who worked in a large pharmaceutical company.  Zheng’s son owned a business, helping pharmaceutical and medical device companies obtain approvals from his father.  Likewise, Zheng’s wife made money acting as an intermediary between Zheng and license-seeking companies.   Due to these practices, Zheng’s wife, son and daughter-in-law were all arrested and investigated.  However, there are no news reports on their current status.


Chinese Criminal Law provides that bribes taken by the family members of an official would be attributed to the amount of bribes taken by the official himself. Unbeknown to Zheng (as he claimed), until his entire family was brought before the law, bribe-taking family members can also be punished under the Criminal Law as accomplices.


* Licensed to practice law in China and the New York State of the U.S.  Henry Chen is also the author of Commercian Bribery Risk Management in China.  Henry represented Chinese government in negotiation and draft of ISO19600 Compliance Management System - Guidelines.  Henry Chen is available at chenlitong@hotmail.com


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