President of China’s second-largest train group takes his own life

Company said it was an accident but there were strong suggestions otherwise

Bai Zhongren, president of the state-owned rail operator China Railway Group, reportedly jumped to his death from a fourth-storey window at his home. Photograph: Reuters

Bai Zhongren, president of the state-owned rail operator China Railway Group, reportedly jumped to his death from a fourth-storey window at his home. Photograph: Reuters

Mon, Jan 6, 2014, 17:56


In the latest suicide to strike China’s railway sector, Bai Zhongren, president of the state-owned rail operator China Railway Group, reportedly jumped to his death from a fourth-storey window at his home.

The company said it was an accident but there were strong suggestions otherwise. According to the Shanghai- based China Business News, which did not reveal its sources, the 53-year-old executive suffered from depression and the company had been under financial pressure.


Corruption
Mr Bai is one of several senior rail officials and executives who have taken their own lives since corruption scandals involving senior officials in the industry began to emerge three years ago, although there has been no direct link drawn between China Railway Group and the corruption cases.

China’s second-biggest railway builder, the company has 290,000 employees, and was ranked 102 last year on Fortune magazine’s list of the world’s biggest companies.

Among the projects it has built are the world’s highest rail line from Qinghai to Tibet and the high-speed link between Beijing and Shanghai.

The company is believed to be heavily indebted. According to company figures, by the end of October 2013 the company had total assets of 626.5 billion yuan (€76 billion), with total debts of €64.6 billion. China has the world’s biggest railway system. In December it passed 100,000km of track, including 10,000km of high- speed lines.


Construction boom
Much of the corruption in the industry stems from the construction boom that came from the rapid expansion of the high-speed rail network.

In July, a former minister of railways, Liu Zhijun, received a suspended death sentence in China’s highest-profile corruption case in years. He was convicted of taking bribes and of passing on contracts to his friends, amid lurid tales of expensive artworks and watches being used as lures.

Verdicts are expected soon in the case of Mr Liu’s confidante Ding Shumiao, who is accused of bribery linked to railway projects worth more than €22.5 billion.

Verdicts are also imminent in the trial of Zhang Shuguang, a former deputy chief engineer of the rail ministry.

Mr Zhang was charged in September with taking 47 million yuan (€5.7 million) in bribes, and he allegedly used nearly half of it trying to buy his way into the illustrious Chinese Academy of Sciences, China’s top natural sciences academy.

The old railway ministry was disbanded in March after a series of corruption scandals, and its administrative functions were handed to the transport ministry and its commercial role given to China Railway Corporation.

The company is listed on both the Hong Kong and Shanghai stock exchanges, and news of Mr Bai’s death hammered shares in the company.