, BEIJING September 5- A Chinese official dubbed “Brother Watch” because of his taste for expensive timepieces was Thursday sentenced to 14 years in jail for corruption, the court said, as he lamented his fall into the “abyss of crime”.
Yang Dacai first came under scrutiny from Chinese Internet users after he was pictured grinning broadly while assessing the twisted wreckage of a bus and a methanol tanker following an accident which left 36 people dead last year.
The former work safety boss in the northern province of Shaanxi was later derided online after images of him wearing various luxury brand watches were tracked down and circulated.
“I worked for several decades, before finally taking the road to crime,” he told the Intermediate People’s Court in Xian, Shaanxi’s provincial capital, according to state news agency Xinhua.
“It is useless to repent after falling into the abyss of crime, but I sincerely want to confess and regret the crime I committed, and beg the court to give me a brand new start in life,” he added.
A court official surnamed Xu confirmed his conviction, the jail term and a 50,000 yuan ($8,200) fine to AFP.
“The court ordered confiscation of the 250,000 yuan in bribes he took and over five million yuan of property he failed to account for,” Xinhua added.
The verdict and sentence followed a one day trial last week, when Yang did not object to the charges.
The five million yuan “probably” represented “presents from junior officials and old school friends during festivals”, Yang said previously, according to domestic reports.
The trial followed an investigation by the ruling Communist Party’s discipline inspection commission, which found Yang guilty of “inappropriate ‘smiling face’ behaviour” and dismissed him from his post.
Yang’s highly publicised and widely discussed downfall was played out amid a drive by authorities to contain popular anger at public servants’ perceived expensive tastes and corruption.
Pictures posted online showed him wearing 11 flashy watches five of which were together worth more than 300,000 yuan, the China Daily newspaper quoted an expert as saying. Other images showed him wearing designer glasses and belts.
The sentencing saw many return to China’s hugely popular microblogging sites to ridicule Yang.
“Keep smiling for 14 years in prison Brother Watch!” one posted on Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter.
Many bloggers complained that the sentence was too lenient.
“Just a 50,000 yuan fine?” posted one. “That’s far smaller than the five million he obtained through corruption.”
Others commented on video images showing Yang sporting his semi-permanent mild grin as he was led from a van by police and taken into the court building.
He continued to show a faint smile as he stood in front of the judge, flanked by two policeman clutching his arms.
“I think everyone now knows that this smile is just Brother Watch’s way,” said one comment.
The leadership of the Communist Party under President Xi Jinping has repeatedly pledged to crack down on corruption.
But while authorities have in the past mounted inquiries into corrupt practices revealed online by whistleblowers, in recent months a wide ranging clampdown on “online rumours” has been launched, targeting scores of online companies, bloggers and journalists.
Hundreds of people are estimated to have been questioned or detained as a result.
Last month officials told Internet celebrities with millions of online followers to “promote virtues” and “uphold law” online.