(WSJ): Chinese social media sites were dripping with schadenfreude Friday on news that a former Communist Party official notorious for his appearance in a disturbingly vivid sex tape had been sentenced to 13 years in prison for corruption.
In addition to the prison time, Lei Zhengfu, former party secretary of the Beibei district in southwestern China’s Chongqing municipality, was also fined 300,000 yuan ($49,000) after being found guilty of accepting bribes by a Chongqing court, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
A portly 55-year-old bureaucrat once described by the New Yorker’s Evan Osnos as possessing “astonishing ranine qualities,” Mr. Lei became the poster child for official corruption after a video of him having sex with a woman many years his junior ricocheted across the Chinese Internet in November. The woman turned out to have been hired by a local property developer to have sex with Mr. Lei and other local officials as part of a scheme to extort them, according to police.
“Twelve seconds in bed, one year for each second – and then they added a year!” one user of the Twitter-like Sina Weibo microblogging service wrote of Mr. Lei’s sentence, one of hundreds of comments that took aim at the official’s famously truncated performance in the video.
Efforts to reach Mr. Lei through the court and his lawyer’s office were unsuccessful.
He wasn’t alone in being punished. Six others were sentenced in connection with the scandal, according to Xinhua, including Xiao Ye, the property developer, and Zhao Hongxia, the woman in the video.
Mr. Xiao was sentenced to 10 years in prison, while Ms. Zhao was given a suspended two-year sentence.
The prosecution of corrupt mid-level officials can of a double-edged sword for China’s government. On the one hand, the Chinese public is hungry to see corruption punished. Yet the spectacle can also lead to questions about why higher level officials aren’t also being put on trial.
To be sure, some sought to cast Mr. Lei as a sacrificial lamb on Friday, dismissing the 3 million yuan he solicited from a businessman to pay off his blackmailers as a drop in the country’s vast ocean of illicit transactions.
Yet, perhaps still upset at having been exposed to the sight of him in flagrante delicto with Ms. Zhao, most Internet users seemed content to crow over Mr. Lei’s fate.
“This is justice,” wrote one Sina Weibo user. Others joked that the official, who claimed in court to still be in a relationship with Ms. Zhao (in Chinese), would be heartbroken to have to spend so long apart from the woman.
Many were also pleased to learn that there would be no jail time for Ms. Zhao, who has been hailed by some as an anticorruption warrior.
“Hongxia has brought China into a new anticorruption phase and become a symbol of the times!” gushed one microblogger. “Seeing her come home is the eager desire of the people!”
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