'Brother Watch' gets 14 years for corruption

BEIJING - A Chinese official branded "Brother Watch" because of his expensive taste in timepieces was sentenced to 14 years in jail for corruption yesterday, lamenting his fall into the "abyss of crime", reports said.

Yang Dacai first came under scrutiny from Chinese Internet users after he was pictured grinning broadly as he assessed the twisted wreckage of a bus and a methanol tanker following an accident that left 36 people dead last year.

The former work-safety boss in the northern province of Shaanxi was later derided online after images of him wearing various luxury-brand watches were tracked down and circulated.

"I worked for several decades, before finally taking the road to crime," he told the Intermediate People's Court in Xian, Shaanxi's provincial capital, according to state news agency Xinhua.

"It is useless to repent after falling into the abyss of crime, but I sincerely want to confess and regret the crime I committed, and beg the court to give me a brand-new start in life," he added.

The sentence was imposed following a one-day trial last week, in which Yang was accused of having property worth 5.04 million yuan (S$1 million) from unexplained sources and accepting 250,000 yuan in bribes, state broadcaster CCTV said.

Yang's highly publicised downfall was played out amid a drive by the authorities to contain popular anger at public servants' perceived expensive tastes and corruption.

Pictures posted online showed him wearing 11 flashy watches - five of which were together worth more than 300,000 yuan, the China Daily newspaper quoted an expert as saying.