Zheng Xiaoyu, the former director of its State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA) was put to death thismorning after the People's Court of Beijing upheld the death sentence that had been handed down the previous month, during an appeal hearing held on June 22. As part of his appeal for leniency, lawyers had pointed to Zheng's "voluntary confessions" and "confessions of good attitude" and his initiative to return some of the cash and gifts he received as bribes, which in total were $850,000 (€632,000).
However, no such mercy was shown. "The judgement made by the first and second hearings was authentic, the evidence was complete and the death sentence was appropriate," China's Xinhua News Agency reported the court as saying. "Zheng's dereliction of duty has undermined the efficiency of China's drug monitoring and supervision, endangered public life and health and has had a very negative social impact."
Indeed, in a case that was described by the court as "very serious," the degree of Zheng's corruption was reportedly extensive. According to his conviction, he "sought benefits" for eight pharmaceutical companies, including the Hainan Kongliyuan Group from South China's Hainan Province, in exchange for inappropriately approving hundreds of drugs and medical devices during a three-year period between 2001 and 2003, at least six of which proved to be fake. Dozens of people were killed by counterfeit and inferior products in China during Zheng's tenure. Following the execution, Zheng's former colleague Cao Wenzhuan will now be on his best behaviour after being handed a similar fate on Friday.
Cao was found guilty of taking the equivalent of $307,000 in bribes from two pharma companies seeking a backdoor approval for their drugs, during his position as Pharmaceutical Registration Department director between 2002 and 2006. However, unlike Zheng, Cao's death sentence is suspended and could be commuted to life imprisonment if he displays good behaviour during this period of reprieve.
More than 30 other high-ranking SFDA officials are currently still being investigated as part of the corruption scandal that surfaced last year. "The few corrupt officials of the SFDA are the shame of the whole system and their scandals have revealed some very serious problems," an SFDA spokesperson Yan Jiangying said at a news conference confirming the execution.
Yan also acknowledged the "unsatisfactory" nature of the agency's regulatory efforts and said efforts were being made to "tighten its safety procedures and create a more transparent operating environment." China's resolve to clean up corruption in its pharma industry has intensified over the past couple of years in response to mounting international pressure.
For years China has been suffering from a dubious reputation in the pharmaceutical industry. In one high profile case in May 2006, nine people died in China after being injected with a concoction of Armillarisni A that contained a fake and toxic ingredient. In Panama last year, more than 40 people died after taking cough syrup, antihistamine tablets, and calamine lotion which contained glycerine that was contaminated with diethylene glycol (DEG), a poison used in antifreeze and as a solvent. The glycerin was originally sourced from China.
Meanwhile, China is also a source of much of the world's counterfeit drugs - another acute danger to public safety, not to mention the impact on international pharma industry revenues.