Jailed China luxury watch official fell into ‘abyss of crime’

AFP/AFP/File - Police set up a cordon outside the courthouse in Xian, Shaanxi province, on August 30, 2013, where Yang Dacai was being tried for corruption. Yang who became known as "Brother Watch" because of his taste for luxury timepieces was convicted of corruption and sentenced to 14 years in prison on Thursday  less

AFP/AFP/File – Police set up a cordon outside the courthouse in Xian, Shaanxi province, on August 30, 2013, where Yang Dacai was being tried for corruption. Yang who became known as “Brother Watch” because of his taste for luxury timepieces was convicted of corruption and sentenced to 14 years in prison on Thursday less

A Chinese official branded “Brother Watch” because of his expensive taste in timepieces was on Thursday sentenced to 14 years in jail for corruption, lamenting his fall into the “abyss of crime”, reports said.

Yang Dacai first came under scrutiny from Chinese Internet users after he was pictured grinning broadly as he assessed 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.

The sentence was imposed Thursday following a one-day trial last week in which Yang was accused of having property worth 5.04 million yuan ($820,000) from unexplained sources and accepting 250,000 yuan in bribes, state broadcaster CCTV said.

The 5.04 million yuan “probably” represented “presents from junior officials and old school-friends during festivals”, Yang said previously, according to domestic reports.

He did not object to the charges and was also fined 50,000 yuan.

“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 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 ($48,000), the China Daily newspaper quoted an expert as saying. Other images showed him in designer glasses and belts.

The sentencing saw many netizens return to China’s hugely popular microblogging sites to ridicule Yang.

“Keep smiling for 14 years in prison Brother Watch!” posted one on Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter.

Many bloggers complained that the sentence was too lenient.

“Just a 50,000 RMB fine?” posted one. “That’s far smaller than the five million he obtained through corruption.”

The leadership of the ruling party under President Xi Jinping has repeatedly pledged to crack down on corruption.

But while authorities have in the past reacted to online whistleblowing of corrupt practices, 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.