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Tianjin company head receives suspended death sentence over fatal 2015 blast

10 November 2016

The head of a Chinese company received a suspended death sentence on November 9 for his involvement in a massive explosion at a chemical warehouse in Tianjin on 12 August 2015, which left 173 people dead and 798 injured. Yu Xuewei, chairman of Tianjin Dongjiang Port Rui Hai International Logistics Co. was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve for his role in the accident, according to Caixin Online.

Yu Xuewei in court on Chinese TV news
Yu Xuewei in court on Chinese TV news

He was found guilty of bribing government officials, obtaining certificates by illegal methods to store hazardous chemicals at Tianjin port, and providing fake environmental assessment papers, according to the Tianjin High Court. This sentence is generally commuted to life imprisonment, according to Chinese law.

Yu had been the deputy manager of the Tianjin branch of China's state-run Sinochem Group.
In a video shown on state broadcaster CCTV, Yu told the judges that he regretted his actions and would not appeal.

“I want to use this opportunity to apologise to those who died and were hurt in the blasts and their families, as well as all the citizens of the nation,” Yu said.

The Tianjin No. 2 Intermediate People's Court and other local courts handed 49 suspects prison terms ranging from one year to life depending on their role in the accident. Yu's deputy and senior managers received prison sentences from 15 years to life.

The high court said officials at Tianjin's transport, port, customs, workplace safety supervision and maritime departments showed serious dereliction of duty in their jobs, with some taking bribes and issuing unlawful permits, which led to the disaster on August 12, 2015.

A total of 25 local government officials, including the head of Tianjin Municipal Transportation Commission Wu Dai, received three to seven years in prison for dereliction of duty, taking bribes and abuse of power.

It is rare for directors of government agencies to receive such severe sentences over industrial accidents, law expert Zhao Bingzhi told the official Xinhua News Agency. "This should sound a warning to other directors," he added.

In addition, 11 employees of a company that faked the assessment papers Rui Hai needed to maintain its certificates, were sentenced to up to four years in prison.

Investigators found that the blast was triggered when stocks of nitrocellulose, a flammable compound used as a binding agent, became too dry and caught fire in the August heat. The flames then spread to illegal stores of the combustible fertiliser ammonium nitrate, triggering a series of blasts that flattened the warehouse, destroyed an adjacent car storage area and caused extensive damage to neighbouring apartment blocks.

The dead included 99 firefighters and 11 police officers, who were not informed of the presence of the 800 tons of ammonium nitrate. Another 800 were injured, largely because Ruihai illegally built its warehouse too close to their apartments.

The accident destroyed 304 buildings, 12,428 cars and 7,533 containers, incurring economic losses of nearly 7 billion yuan ($1 billion), and also contaminated air, water and soil in the surrounding areas.


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