Senior work safety officials suspected corruption to be behind the breaking of an ironore wastedump wall that caused a massive mudslide in Shanxi province, and said the deliberate concealment of the true death toll could have led to a delay in proper rescue operations.
The tragedy in Xiangfen county's Yunhe village has claimed 260 lives.
Huang Yi, spokesman for State Administration of Work Safety, yesterday said a team formed by the State Council is investigating whether local officials intentionally hid the true death toll because the toll they gave differed from the number of bodies found at the site.
Local officials claimed 187 people had died by Sept 13 when the actual number of bodies found was 238, Huang said.
Local authorities claimed relatives had taken away 51 bodies that had not been recorded by the rescue headquarters, which is mandatory.
But it is possible that they hid the truth intentionally, and wanted to keep the death toll down, Huang told Xinhua.
Police have detained several people in the case, and are probing for more facts, Huang said.
The wall of the liquid iron-ore waste dump broke on Sept 8, causing a massive mudslide that buried many houses, a market and some office buildings over an area of more than 30 hectares.
An initial investigation found the accident was caused by negligence. The waste dump was built in contravention of rules, and had not been checked for safety for a long time.
Huang said corruption is one of the angles being pursued by the investigators.
"What had the local authorities been doing while such an (illegal) mine functioned right under their noses?" Huang said. "Investigation on possible corruption is a must."
Huang said the result of the investigation would be announced within two months.
(China Daily September 18, 2008)