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Officials Nabbed in Crooked Land Deals

Two local officials in east China's Shandong Province have been arrested for allegedly taking bribes in connection with land use, the Ministry of Land and Resources disclosed on Monday in Beijing.

The two officials -- Wang Yan, assistant to the mayor of Qingdao, Shandong Province, and Yu Zhijun, director of the Education and Sports Bureau of Qingdao -- are accused by prosecutors of taking bribes to endorse illegal land acquisitions in the city's Laoshan District in 2001.

The two, then heads of Laoshan District and the district's land authority, respectively, ordered the illegal transfer of 262 hectares of land from rural collectives. Authorities say 97 hectares of the land have so far been occupied.

The ministry kicked off an unprecedented nationwide probe into rampant land abuse last July and spoke out yesterday about what might happen to local officials implicated in the investigation.

Five of the nine major land abuse cases the ministry publicly disclosed at the end of last year have so far been investigated, said Zhang Xinbao, director of the ministry's supervision division.

The other three cases took place in Nanchang, capital of east China's Jiangxi Province; north China's Tianjin Municipality; and northwest China's Shaanxi Province. All the local officials held responsible have received administrative punishments.

Chinese law states that the Ministry of Land and Resources must approve acquisition of any piece of arable land larger than 70 hectares.

Zhang said the rest of the 165 hectares of land will either be put aside for further disposal or be returned to farmers for cultivation.

The developers of the projects already under construction on the land can apply to the local land authority for necessary land-use certificates. The Laoshan District government will provide compensation for any losses to the state and to rural collectives from land transfers.

Local officials responsible for illegal construction of a 79-hectare golf course in Qihe County, Shandong, have been given administrative demotions and stern intra-Party disciplinary warnings.

Zhang admitted the illegal construction of the golf links destroyed 32.5 hectares of highly productive arable land that was not supposed to be transferred to other uses.

But the construction was approved by the leadership of the county as a whole, instead of any individual official.

Handing out administrative punishments to leading county officials was deemed the most suitable course of action in the case, Zhang said.

Zhang hopes severe punishment will forestall other land abuses by local officials.

He said no one involved in such cases can expect to get away with the crimes without completing several pages of self-criticism, he said.

Local officials who do not enforce current land management laws and regulations are leading to the country's continuous loss of arable land, according to Zhang.

Last year alone, China lost 2.5 million hectares of arable land, 50 percent more than in the previous year.

(China Daily March 16, 2004)

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