Authorities turned a blind eye or took bribes for businessman's development
Sixty-two officials in Hunan province have been held accountable for a businessman's illegal enclosure of a key wetland preserve for business purposes, the province's top discipline watchdog said on Wednesday.
Among those punished were at least seven prefecture-level officials, including Tang Xizhen, deputy head of the Hunan provincial animal husbandry and aquatic authority, and Xie Shoubao, vice-mayor of Yiyang.
The watchdog said 14 of the officials have been removed from posts in the local committees of the Communist Party of China and from local government bodies, including Tang and Xie. Two others were removed from their posts in government bodies and given serious warnings within the Party. Seven officials were given serious warnings only.
The watchdog didn't disclose the penalties given to other officials but said the punishment for 11 of them will be announced after an investigation is completed.
Five of the punished officials were transferred to posts unrelated to the posts where the violations occurred, according to the watchdog's online statement.
In 2014, Hunan authorities found via satellite remote sensing that some wetlands around Xiase Lake, which stretches across Yiyang and Yueyang, had been enclosed by dikes. The dikes were built by businessman Xia Shun'an, starting in 2011, for growing reeds and trees.
The size of the enclosed area was not disclosed by the watchdog, but according to previous media reports it was about 1,852 hectares. Xia allegedly built more than 18 kilometers of dikes.
The dikes and three water gates had been removed as of June 20.
Parts of Xiase Lake in Yueyang and Yiyang were listed as key wetland areas for protection in 2002 and 2003.
Some local officials failed to discover Xia's illegal activities promptly, and some took bribes from him, the watchdog said.
Some officials violated the law by signing long-term contracts with Xia and also issued fake documents for him. Some helped Xia to become a provincial legislator for Hunan through bribes during the election and acting as a "protective umbrella" for his activities, it said.
Xia was detained in June for defrauding a bank of 8 million yuan ($1.2 million), according to media reports.
Some officials in Yiyang and Yueyang attached great importance to economic development but little importance to environmental protection. And some kept silent when they found environmental violations, the statement said.
"Those officials bearing responsibility for ecological and environmental damage will be held accountable and seriously punished, even if they have been transferred to other posts or promoted, or even if they have retired," the statement said.