BEIJING — A Chinese court on Wednesday gave the head of a logistics company a suspended death sentence over a massive explosion at a chemical warehouse in Tianjin last year that killed 173 people, most of them firefighters and police officers.
Tianjin’s No. 2 Intermediate Court ruled that Ruihai International Logistics Chairman Yu Xuewei paid bribes to obtain permission to illegally store more than 49,000 tons of sodium cyanide and other highly toxic chemicals at the company’s warehouse in the city’s port between 2013 and 2015, when the explosion occurred. Such sentences are usually commuted to life in prison after two years.
Various other Tianjin courts gave lesser sentences to 48 other people. They included 25 local government officials and workers accused of dereliction of duty, abuse of power and bribe taking, 12 other Ruihai employees accused of taking part in the scheme and 11 employees of a company that provided phony certificates supporting the company’s operations.
In a video shown on state broadcaster CCTV, Yu told the judges that he regretted his actions and wouldn’t appeal.
“I want to use this opportunity to apologize to those who died and were hurt in the blasts and their families, as well as all the citizens of the nation,” Yu said.
The explosion was among China’s deadliest industrial accidents in recent years and the resulting investigation was directly overseen by the Cabinet.
Investigators found that the blast was triggered when stocks of nitrocellulose, a flammable compound used as a binding agent with medical applications and as an ingredient of lacquer, became too dry and caught fire in the August heat. The flames then spread to illegal stores of the combustible fertilizer ammonium nitrate, triggering a series of blasts that flattened the warehouse, destroyed an adjacent auto lot and caused extensive damage to neighboring apartment blocks.
The dead included 99 firefighters and 11 police officers, who were not informed of the presence of the 800 tons of ammonium nitrate. Another 798 people were injured, largely because Ruihai illegally built its warehouse too close to their apartments.
The blasts contaminated the air, water, and soil in the immediate area but did not affect the environmental quality of the ocean bay on which Tianjin sits, the investigators said.
China — Explosion in Tianjin early on August 13, 2015. Credit AFP and Getty Images
Tianjin hole in the ground An aerial photograph showing the site of the August 12 deadly blasts in Tianjin. Photo by Reuters
BEIJING (AFP) – Chinese courts Wednesday jailed almost 50 people over last year’s giant explosions in the port of Tianjin that killed 165 people, state media reported.
The blasts at a chemical warehouse owned by Rui Hai International Logistics on August 12, 2015 sent a huge fireball soaring into the sky and mangled structures kilometres away.
Social media users recorded the scene of what rapidly became the country’s highest-profile industrial accident in years.
A swathe of the northern port was devastated and fears of toxic pollution were rife, with cyanide levels in the disaster zone far above national limits.
Those convicted on Wednesday were 24 company managers and staff members and 25 government officials, the official news agency Xinhua said.
The charges ranged from illegal storage of materials to abuse of power.
The head of Rui Hai, Yu Xuewei, received a two-year suspended death sentence — normally commuted to life in prison — and was fined 700,000 yuan ($103,252) for his role in the disaster.
In the aftermath of the explosions Xinhua described Yu as a former executive at state-owned chemical company Sinochem, and said another of Rui Hai?s owners was the son of the former port police chief.
Those connections helped the company get permits despite numerous safety violations, it reported.
The court ruling confirmed the findings of a government report in February, that government bodies in charge of the port, up to ministerial level, routinely ignored or violated laws and regulations on chemical storage.
Corruption is rife in China and causes widespread anger with the ruling Communist party.
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