China charges businesswoman in railway graft case: state media

Still image taken from video of China's former railways minister, Liu, attending a trial for charges of corruption and abuse of power at a courthouse in Beijing
China's former railways minister, Liu Zhijun, attends a trial for charges of corruption and abuse of power at a courthouse in Beijing in this still image taken from video dated June 9, 2013. REUTERS/CCTV via Reuters TV

BEIJING (Reuters) - China charged a well-known businesswoman, who has ties to a disgraced former railways minister, with bribery and illegal business activities on Monday, state media reported.

Ding Shumiao, helped 23 businesses win railway construction contracts and funneled 49 million yuan ($8 million) worth of kickbacks to former railways minister Liu Zhijun, the official China Daily said, citing Beijing prosecutors.

She also "offered sexual favors to Liu by arranging an unidentified number of women for him", the paper said.

There was no immediate comment from either Ding or her family about the report.

The China Daily report said Ding also intervened in bidding for dozens of railway contracts through her relationships with ministry staff and engaged in illegal business operations valued at 178.8 billion yuan ($29.21 billion).

It appeared to be yet another example of the graft on which China's ruling Communist Party has been cracking down. President Xi Jinping has said graft threatens the party's survival.

Ding, 58, had humble beginnings as an egg seller but over three decades built a business empire with interests in the coal business as well as China's high-speed rail system.

Officials began an inquiry into Ding when an auditing authority found a state-owned enterprise paid nearly 100 million yuan ($16 million) to her company, the China Daily reported.

After a high-profile trial this summer, Liu received a suspended death sentence, a uniquely Chinese punishment that usually amounts to life in prison, for taking bribes and steering contracts to associates.

Ding and her relatives accumulated 4 billion yuan ($654 million) in profits over several years with Liu's help, the China Daily reported.

Other ministry officials have been charged with corruption and abuse of power.

Zhang Shuguang, a former senior official with the Railways Ministry, was charged last Tuesday with accepting more than 47 million yuan ($7.7 million) in bribes over 11 years.

China's Railways Ministry suffered a major blow to its image when a 2011 crash between two bullet trains killed 40 people.

Funding high-speed train lines has left China's railway system mired in debt.

(Reporting By Megha Rajagopalan; Editing by Paul Tait)