The curious case of China's former nuclear power chief's life sentence

The former chief of China's civilian and military nuclear programmes and the prime facilitator of Pakistan's Chashma Nuclear Power Project, was sentenced to life imprisonment by a Chinese court yesterday for accepting bribes.
The official Xinhua News Agency yesterday reported, citing a statement from Beijing's First Intermediary Court, that Kang Rixin, the former head of China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC), was convicted for taking 6.6 million yuan ($994,000) in kickbacks between 2004 and 2009.

Interestingly, when Kang was fired from his job last year, the Chinese government had accused him of taking bribes totalling 1.8 billion yuan, the equivalent of $260 million.
During the course of the investigation, the Chinese government seized his personal assets in December 2009 and stripped him of his political rights for life.
According to the court, 57 year-old Kang had taken bribes and abused his position to enrich others, but was given a lighter sentence because he cooperated with the authorities and returned the money he had taken.

Kang is reported to have taken bribes between 2004 and 2009 in exchange for granting contracts to companies from France and Southeast Asia and also for allegedly trading on the stock market for his own gain with large amounts of public funds that were earmarked for the construction of three nuclear power plants.
It is likely that his embezzlement was discovered when the stock market crashed in late 2007.
But now being convicted by the court for taking merely $1 million in bribes after being earlier accused in 2009 of taking $260 million in kickbacks raises the possibility of the Chinese government protecting him just as the Pakistan government is protecting its rogue nuclear salesman A Q Khan.

Although the Chinese government has never disclosed which companies had bribed him, nor has the court named any foreign nuclear firms, Kang is reported to have taken kickbacks from French nuclear power giant Areva for a contract in China's southern Guangdong province.

In November 2007, Areva bagged an order worth €8 billion ($11.9 billion) to supply two of the third-generation EPR nuclear reactors to be built in Taishan in Guangdong province. It seems utterly implausible that Areva would offer a bribe of a measly $994,000 for an $11.9-billion order.

Under Chinese laws, accepting bribes invites the death penalty and the Chinese government has, of late, been strictly enforcing the death penalty for bribery.