Qian Lieyang, a partner with Beijing’s East Associates Law Firm, has been appointed to defend former Chinese railway minister Liu Zhijun, who was officially charged last week with bribery and abuse of power.
 
The trial will take place in Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court, though no date has been set.
 
Liu was dismissed as railway minister in 2011 after holding the position for eight years. He is accused of taking almost $10 million in illegal payments in exchange for awarding contracts on China’s rail network. The substandard work of some of these contractors has been blamed for a 2011 high-speed train crash in central China that killed 40 people and injured 190.
 
According to the official China Daily, a trial on related charges of individuals connected to Beijing Boyou Investment Management Corp., began Thursday. Beijing Boyou received contracts from Liu worth $485 million.
 
If convicted, Liu may face the death penalty. In December, Qu Jianguo, a former manager of the Zhuhai branch of Guangdong Development Bank, was sentenced to death for receiving $5.2 million in bribes.
 
Qian, a former partner at both Dacheng Law Offices and Zhongfu Law Firm, is a veteran of many such cases. He acted for Huang Guangyu, founder and former chairman of China’s largest consumer electronics retailer Gome Group, on his bribery and insider trading charges in 2009. Huang was sentenced to 14 years imprisonment and fined $88 million. Qian also represented Ma De, a former senior official in Northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province, who was been charged with taking 17 bribes amounting to more than $726,000 between 1992 and 2001. Ma was sentenced to death.
 
It is not uncommon for the government to appoint defense lawyers in major cases. Unlike in the U.S., where lawyers clamor for high-profile representations, lawyers in China are generally nervous about appearing opposite the government. Courts are not independent and politically suspect lawyers can face harassment, disbarment, or imprisonment. The lack of clear evidentiary rules also means defense lawyers are vulnerable to prosecution for eliciting false testimony.
 
Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post cited Beijing Chinese-language newspapers in reporting last week that, prior to Qian’s appointment, Liu’s family asked lawyers Gao Zicheng of Beijing Kangda Law Firm and Qi Xiaohong of Beijing D&D Law Firm to represent him. Gao said Liu had asked for a guarantee that he would escape the death penalty.
 
“[B]ut I couldn’t do that,” Gao reportedly said.
 
Email: jseah@alm.com .