Controversy Over Jurisdiction Emerges in Chongqing's Pursuit of Beijing Lawyer

By Zhang Xiaohui
Published: 2011-04-01

Economic Observer Online
March 31, 2011
Translated by Guo Wei
Original article:

On March 29, the Chongqing government announced that they had become aware of new evidence regarding crimes commited by jailed Beijing lawyer Li Zhuang (李庄) that, up until now, had been overlooked.

According to Chongqing prosecutors, the case involving suspected additional crimes commited by Li Zhuang has already been passed from public security organs to Chongqing's Jiangbei People's procuratorate for vetting and a decision on whether to go ahead with officially charging the lawyer.

Li was originally sentenced to 30 months in prison on charges of  falsifying evidence and inciting others to bear false witness on January 8 2010, but his sentence was reduced to 18 months by the Chongqing No.1 Intermediate People's Court on appeal in February that year.

Li's case attraced much attention from China's legal community as the fiery lawyer, who had a reputation for pushing the boundaries of what is considered acceptable practice in China's legal system, was accused of fabricating evidence only after his client alleged that he had been tortued while being interrogated during Chongqing's high-profile crackdown on criminal gangs. The case highlighted concerns among some lawyers that the government was trampling legal procedure in its zeal for convictions and also appeared to involve high-level political figures.

Further drama ensued during Li's appeal trial when the normally outspoken Li surprised almost everyone by switching his defense strategy and confessing to the charges during the formal hearing. However, following the announcement of the reduced sentence, Li Zhuang immediately retracted his earlier admissions of guilt and went on to accuse local prosecutors of failing to honor a deal in which he would receive a suspended sentence in exchange for an admission of guilt.

To add an extra layer of intrigue, Caixin Media reported that during his post-verdict outburst, Li revealed that the text of his earlier confession contained a hidden code revealing his insincerity.

As Caixin Media reported:

"The sixpoint admission of guilt, announced by Li during his appeal, contains an acrostic that narrates his retraction. The first and last characters of each sentence form a statement that says, "forced into the guilty plea and a reprieve, and will certainly appeal once I’m out (of custody)."

According to news received by the EO, after Li Zhuang was sentenced in February last year, Chongqing judiciary received several reports from around the country about alleged crimes commited by Li Zhuang while conducting his duties as a legal representative.

An important difference between the initial reports of Li Zhuang's alleged "overlooked crimes" which emerged on March 29 and the details that later emerged through official channels in Chongqing, is that the latter reports suggest that Li Zhuang's crimes were commited "all around the country."

After this news was revealed, some lawyers pointed out that the the investigation of the "overlooked crimes" could raise questions about jurisdiction.

Namely, if the alleged crimes were commited in other cities, it falls within the jurisdiction of those cities.

The first sentence of article 221 of China's criminal procedure law states that if earlier crimes come to light while the accused is already serving a sentence, the executive organ should transfer them to the people's procuratorate where the crime was committed.

Li Zhuang is currently in detention, and two options remain open.

Firstly, if a change of jurisdiction occurs while the accused is in custody, then the legal procedures must be repeated in a new investigation.

The other option is, if the criminal is awaiting sentencing and new charges surface, then legal procedures will not have to be repeated and the original sentence can be changed.

According to article 24 of the criminal procedure law, criminal cases must be presided by the local people's court. The suspect must remain in local custody and the investigation should be carried out by local police. 

All this seems to suggest that if Li Zhuang committed crimes of falsifying evidence and obstructing justice outside Chongqing, then legal procedures must be conducted outside Chongqing.

But the information released by the Chongqing government is limited, they've announced that there are "overlooked crimes" and they've also said that they received reports of similar crimes being commited by Li Zhuang from all over the country after he was sentenced.

However, there are other sources who tell us that Li Zhuang may be investigated for fraud carried out while working as a lawyer and following the principle of the penal code, if Li was to be charged with a more serious crime befor finishing his current sentence, he would be transferred to another jurisdiction to answer the more serious charges.

Links and Sources
Economic Observer Online:
Li Zhuang Retracts Admission of Guilt Following Reduced Sentence
Economic Observer Online: Lawyer Jailed for Fabricating Evidence in Chongqing Gang Case Faces Further Prosecution
Caixin Media: The Li Zhuang Case
Sydney Morning Herald: Children of the revolution
The Guardian: Chinese lawyer jailed for defence of alleged mafia boss