China sentences 21 for football corruption

A prominent former football boss and a referees director were handed long jail terms for bribery and match-fixing in China on Saturday as part of a massive anti-graft drive aimed at cleaning up the corruption-blighted local game.

Yang Yimin, a former deputy-chief of the Chinese Football Association, was sentenced to 10-and-a-half-years in prison by a Tieling court in China's north-eastern Liaoning province, and ordered to pay a 200,000 yuan ($32,000) fine, state media reported.

Yang, one of the highest-ranking officials to be swept up in the probe launched over two years ago, had taken bribes totalling 1.25 million yuan on 40 different occasions from domestic clubs and individuals, Xinhua news agency said.

Yang would not appeal the sentence, the agency quoted Yang's attorney Wang Shujing as saying.

"The punishment isn't harsh," Wang said. "Yang took bribes as a government official and the harshest punishment for taking bribes as a public servant could be the death penalty."

The court also sentenced the CFA's former referees director Zhang Jianqiang to 12 years in jail, with a fine of 250,000 yuan.

Zhang, in his capacity as referees director and in other prominent roles in women's and amateur football, had taken bribes from a number of clubs in the top-flight domestic competition, the Chinese Super League (CSL), including Shandong Luneng and Shanghai Shenhua.

He had taken money from Shenhua to help them win the 2003 league title, Xinhua said. He also did not intend to appeal.

The Tieling court read out trial verdicts and sentences to a total of 39 people, including Du Yunqi, former president of CSL club Qingdao, who received a seven-year sentence.

Former Liaoning Guangyuan Club general manager Wang Xin was also sentenced to seven years in prison while former general manager of Shaanxi Guoli Wang Po received a eight-year term.

Football fans set off fireworks outside the court to celebrate the rulings, Xinhua said.

Chinese football has been dogged by match-fixing scandals for years which, along with violence on and off the pitch, has turned fans off the domestic game.

Four referees, including Lu Jun, a former World Cup match official once celebrated as China's "Golden Whistle," were handed jail terms of up to seven years on Thursday for match-fixing and corruption-related offences.

Two of the most prominent people caught in the anti-corruption blitz, former CFA heads Nan Yong and Xie Yalong, are yet to go on trial.

The verdicts have cast a cloud over the CSL ahead of its March 10 kick-off with administrators facing the embarrassment of a number of scandal-hit teams set to take the field.