China plans to scrap death penalty for 9 crimes: Xinhua

BEIJING - China's legislature is considering abolishing the death penalty for nine of the 55 crimes it is currently available for, state media said Monday, including illegal fundraising, which has been at the centre of several controversial cases.

The country executes more people than the rest of the world combined, rights groups say, but a draft amendment to reduce the scope of capital punishment has been submitted to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, China's rubberstamp legislature, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

The move comes amid a raft of proposed changes to the legal system, and follows a key Communist meeting which pledged to ensure the "rule of law", although analysts say the ruling party will remain firmly in charge of the courts.

Some of the nine non-violent crimes included in the draft legislative amendment are smuggling weapons, ammunition or nuclear materials, counterfeiting currency and raising funds by means of fraud, Xinhua said.

Executions for financial offences have been particularly controversial in China, where much bank lending is controlled by the state and private businesses sometimes struggle to obtain funding.

Last year Zheng Chengjie, a self-made businessman, was executed by firing squad - with his family not notified beforehand - after he was convicted of illegal fundraising and defrauding investors of about US$460 million (S$586 million).

A court sentenced a 39-year-old businesswoman to death last year after she was convicted of defrauding her clients of around US$70 million.

China executed 2,400 people last year, down from 10,000 a decade ago, according to a report by the Dui Hua Foundation. The exact number is considered a state secret.

Despite the decline, the country still put more people to death than all other countries combined, according to campaign groups.

China has occasionally exonerated wrongfully executed convicts after others came forward to confess their crimes, or in some cases because the supposed murder victim was later found alive.

China's top court examines all death sentences issued in the country, and sent back 39 per cent of those it reviewed last year to lower courts for additional evidence, the Dui Hua report said, citing a report by the Southern Weekly newspaper.

In one landmark case in June, the Supreme Court overturned the death sentence for Li Yan, a woman who killed her abusive husband.

The Chinese legal system is tightly controlled by the ruling Communist Party and courts have a near-100 per cent conviction rate in criminal cases.