A former Beijing judge has been sentenced to four years in prison for wrongfully handling a 2015 case that has since been found to involve a criminal gang which escaped justice by offering bribes to public officials in law enforcement and the court system.
Song Jie, who presided at the Beijing Yanqing District Court, in April was jailed for the crime of “bending the law for selfish ends” by the Beijing Changping District Court, following the first of two related trials. The court determined that Song accepted 78,800 yuan ($12,162) in bribes and made decisions that led to the wrongful sentencing of a defendant who was a scapegoat for a criminal gang.
Another five public officials, including Yu Shuwen, chief judge of Song’s court, prosecutors and police officers who handled the case, were also jailed for taking bribes and abusing power.
Song awaits a second trial related to the case at an intermediate court in Beijing. She appealed the first trial’s verdict on the basis that her handling of the case followed the instructions of her superior, Yu, who decided on the sentencing, and examined and approved her judgment.
At the time, Song was not able to independently handle cases without Yu’s approval.
The case reflects a longtime issue in the judicial system that a 2017 “judicial accountability” reform was intended to address. The reform prohibited higher-ranking judicial officials, like presidents of courts or chief judges, from examining or approving judgments in cases in which they did not directly participate.
In September 2015, Song was assigned to the case as an assistant judge at Yanqing district court and handed a 10-month sentence to a defendant found guilty of injuring a man during a fight.
However, after authorities busted two local gangs in 2019 during a nationwide crackdown on organized and gang-related crimes, the case was retried and officials involved were investigated.
A re-examination of the case in October 2019 determined that the 2015 case involved criminals from one of the gangs. The court determined that the fight was instigated by one of the gangs’ ringleaders and the defendant, a member of one of the gangs, took all the blame for injuring the man.
Following the crackdown, the gangs’ ringleaders received lengthy jail terms, and a local senior police officer, Zhao Linfei, was imprisoned for acting as a “protective umbrella” who sheltered the gangs for years.
According to verdicts, Zhao helped the ringleaders receive favors from local police, prosecutors and judicial officials handling the 2015 case.
Although Song detected issues with the case, she was instructed by Yu to use a quicker ruling procedure and to administer a lenient punishment. Following the judgment, Yu accepted 300,000 yuan in bribes, which he later shared with Song.
In recent years, President Xi Jinping’s yearslong nationwide anti-graft crackdown has been extended to cover law enforcement and the justice system. Earlier this year, three judicial officials in Beijing were placed under investigation for suspected corruption.
The campaign to crack down on organized and gang-related crimes, which was initiated in 2018, has busted 11,675 criminal gangs, according to official statistics released in March. Also, anti-graft authorities have probed 89,742 cases involving gang crime-related corruption and the “protective umbrella” method of sheltering gangs.