2010: Wen Qiang, prey of Bo Xilai

Add comment July 7th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 2010, Chongqing politician Wen Qiang was executed for corruption — but the rival who felled him was on the brink of his own destruction.

Wen, the longtime Public Security Bureau chief in the southwestern city of Chongking, was a big dog to most. To Bo Xilai, Wen looked more like trophy game.

Son of an “immortal” Communist pol Bo Yibo, the aggressive and charismatic Politburo member Bo was then an ascending star on the national stage.

In 2007, Bo won the Communist Party’s appointment as party chief of Chongqing — effectively giving him control of the city. From this platform, Bo launched a high-profile crackdown on graft and organized crime rife in the 30 million-strong megacity.

During a campaign from roughly 2009 to Bo’s own fall in 2012, some 9,000 people were investigated for corruption, and nearly half of them jailed … or in Wen’s case, worse.

“Dare to fight against the devil, never compromise with the gangs”: Bo’s act resonated powerfully in a country fractured by economic development and widely afflicted by beak-wetting. But Bo’s political angle was not merely playing to the peanut gallery: it was also a factional power play, implicitly critical of his similarly powerful predecessor Wang Yang for having tolerated the mobsters’ rise.

And Wen Qiang, a holdover from even before the Wang years, was Bo’s highest-ranking prey.

Xinhua reported that he was found guilty of soliciting USD $1.7 million worth of bribes, of protecting criminals like his sister-in-law who happened to be the “godmother” of crime in Chongqing, and even of raping a university student. Media circulated salacious stories of buried sacks of cash, mistresses collected and discarded, and secret luxury villas.

In these years, Bo went from victory to vctory and destroying Wen was just another stepping-stone towards the top leadership circles in the People’s Republic.

But merely 16 months after Wen faced his executioner, Bo’s own star also dramatically fell to earth.

In November 2011, British businessman and Bo associate Neil Haywood was found suspiciously poisoned in his Chongqing hotel. Practically overnight, Bo Xilai found himself the target instead of the author of the investigation — politically stricken as all his own chickens came home to roost.

An incredible sequence of events ensued: Bo’s chief of police (and Wen’s own Javert) Wang Lijun bizarrely fled to the (temporary) sanctuary of an American consulate the following February, days after Bo demoted him — apparently citing fear that Bo might have him, too, murdered.

Within weeks, Bo had been sacked as Chongqing party boss and dismissed from the Politburo while his wife Gu Kailai arrested for Neil Heywood’s murder. Wang was arrested when he left the American consulate. Politically impotent now, Bo had months to wait before his own divisive case finally came to a courtroom resolution in 2013. As of this writing, Wang and Bo and Gu are all serving long prison sentences. (Gu’s was a suspended death sentence recently commuted to life imprisonment.)

Through Bo’s precipitous fall, Bo’s own patron Zhou Yongkang was also ruined, forced out of national leadership, and eventually sent to prison on corruption charges of his own.

Bo’s disgrace has brought a re-examination of his rough rule in Chongqing — though many targets of his bygone anti-corruption drive still languish in prison, vainly protesting their innocence.

Though he is no longer around to protest on his own behalf, and there appears to be little sentiment that he was clear of corruption in an absolute sense, Wen has also been re-evaluated in light of those events — including indications that the most incendiary allegations against him might have been ginned up for show:

police buried the bundles of cash, carefully wrapped in waterproof paper, in the morning and then dug them up in front of the cameras that afternoon.

Another key piece of evidence used to convict Wen — two luxury villas worth more than 30 million yuan that Wen allegedly owned — has also been questioned.

A former senior police officer in Chongqing who was close to Wen insisted he was the real owner of the villas, where Wen allegedly kept mistresses and which were later turned into destinations for “anti-graft education” tours.

The (possibly apocryphal) story has it than in a prison meeting, the doomed Wen prophesied Danton-like to his persecutor Wang, “You’ll meet the same fate as me.”

There are affecting interviews with Wen’s wife and son, and even a reporter’s conversation with Wen during the very last hours of his life, all here.

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2015: Liu Han, former tycoon

1 comment February 9th, 2016 Headsman

One year ago today, Chinese billionaire Liu Han was executed in Hubei province, along with his younger brother Liu Wei and thee other associates.

One of the prime catches in the anti-corruption hunt of current president Xi Jinping, Liu was a mining oligarch whose personal fortune was once valued at $6.4 billion.

He was also allegedly “an organized crime boss that no one dared provoke”. He was arrested early in 2014 for embezzlement, gun-running, and orchestrating a hit on a rival crime lord.

Liu’s fall was widely perceived as a strike against his close ally, the powerful former security minister Zhou Yongkang. After months — years even — of rumors about his impending fate, Zhou was arrested for corruption in December 2014; he has since been sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison.

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1983: Wang Zhong, small-time grifter

Add comment January 17th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1983, Wang Zhong, once the Communist Party Secretary and district head of Haifeng county, Guangdong, was executed for corruption.

The first official of his rank to be so punished, Wang did business on a truly paltry scale relative to the titanic graft compassed by China’s latter-day oligarchs: his first booty was a 17″ black-and-white TV in 1979. In the end, between payola extorted and contraband expropriated, Wang sold his life for 69,000 yuan — a little over US $10,000.

The Associated Press translated a Canton newspaper report of Wang’s execution thus:

His crimes were read out and his sentence before more than 17,300 people at a rally at Swatow, 200 miles east of Canton.

Wang then was driven in a truck to an execution ground about 25 minutes away.

Between 600 and 700 bicycles were parked near the execution ground, and some people ran on foot to watch after the truck and its escorts passed by thousands of spectators along the route.

A cold wind blew and a light rain fell as the convoy arrived and a policeman asked Wang if he had any last words. It [was?] said he asked police to tell his children not to follow his examples.

At 2:45, Wang Zhong knelt facing south. The policeman carrying out the execution once again confirmed his identity. Then he picked up an automatic rifle and, ‘peng,’ a bullet pierced Wang Zhong’s heart.

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2013: Jang Sung-taek, North Korean purgee

Add comment December 12th, 2015 Headsman

On this date in 2013, according to North Korea’s state news organ, Kim Jong-un‘s uncle was sentenced to death and directly executed.

Days earlier, Jang Sung-taek (alternatively, Song-taek, Sung-thaek, and various similar transliterations) had suffered an extremely visible fall when, in a Saddam-like twist, he was arrested on live television in the midst of a politburo meeting.


Image from KCTV (North Korea) shows Jang Sung-taek being arrested during a politburo meeting in Pyongyang.

Even so, the severity of his treatment was a surprise given his family tie to the supreme leader (he was the husband of Kim Jong-il‘s sister).

Long one of the secretive state’s top officials — his prestige recovered from two previous falls from favor in the late 1980s and early 2000s — Jang was among the officials involved in the transfer of power from the late Kim Jong-il to the young dictator Kim Jong-un. It is uncertain exactly what brought about his destruction; speculation ran to differing philosophies of economic development and/or raw power rivalry, little clarified by a government statement denouncing him as “despicable human scum … worse than a dog” for his “thrice-cursed acts of treachery” and “decadent capitalist lifestyle.”

Jang was executed by shooting: machine gun fire in the “normal” version, or the more spectacular novelty of anti-aircraft fire by some accounts. (Reports to the effect that Jang was executed by being fed to a pack of wild dogs can still be found, but this story was fabricated by a satirist and its subsequent circulation cautions against a propensity to give credence to every lurid rumor about North Korea.)

Jang’s fall reportedly also brought about the execution of “all relatives” and hundreds of officials who were considered members of his faction.

On this day..

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2014: Mahafarid Amir Khosravi, billionaire

1 comment May 24th, 2015 Headsman

Businessman Mahafarid Amir Khosravi, once the wealthiest man in Iran, was hanged one year ago today for embezzling $2.6 billion.

Khosravi rocketed up the world’s rich lists — Forbes estimated that he would slot in around no. 219 in 2012 — during the late 2000s, when he launched the Aria Investment Development Company. This firm sprouted up from a strapling of 50 million rial (just a couple thousand US dollars) to 20 billion rial in just three years — thanks, as investigations ultimately revealed, to a series of bank loans obtained by means of forged documents that bank managers were tricked or bribed into accepting, then using those loans to purchase state-owned companies like Khuouzestan Steel at sweetheart rates.

According to the Associated Press, “Khosravi’s business empire included more than 35 companies from mineral water production to a football club and meat imports from Brazil.” His fall was a gigantic scandal, generally reckoned the largest financial scam in the history of the Islamic Republic.

The condemnation of a top business magnate on the nuclear “corrupt on earth” charge could hardly fail to raise uncomfortable questions about top government officials. In this case allegations of untoward connections were alleged by to go all the way to then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as a political football to discredit the more liberal elements in Ahmadinejad’s Cabinet.

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2011: Luo Yaping, “land granny”

2 comments November 9th, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 2011, China’s “land granny” was executed for plundering 145 million yuan ($23 million) from China’s swelling bubble in real estate.

Luo Yaping was head of a land sub-bureau in a district of Fushun, a city in northeast China — not an especially high position — and yet she was able to use her power over land development and compensation to accumulate a fortune in bribes and embezzled compensation,” according to Reuters.

Though anti-corruption investigators tarred her racket as “the lowest in class, biggest in sum and evilest in tactics,” neither the person nor her boodle were very big game at all for China’s bananas real estate market. Chinese conglomerates write budget lines for routine bribery far beyond what Luo feathered her nest with.

China’s new fortunes chasing after property — and vice versa — have given the country a wild kaleidoscope: astronomical urban rents; colossal speculative ghost cities awaiting tenants who might never arrive; and underhanded deals among developers and government officials to split up the spoils. Average housing prices across the country tripled from 2005 to 2009.

Whatever the inanities of the market, more buyers have always been there because real estate has long been seen in China as one of the few fairly reliable places to put one’s money. In fact, China’s newly minted millionaires have even globalized the real estate markets of some European and North American cities.

But for China’s 99% the tectonic social changes so profitable to builders are full of dislocations; probably fewer people feel kinship to a grandmother waxing fat on the boom than to a grandmother literally buried alive by ravenous builders.

It would take deeper knowledge than this site can pretend to to figure why the Land Granny in particular got fitted for the harshest sanction, but it seems reasonable to presume that in carrying it out China had a mind to redress some grievances.

China’s real estate sector has continued to go great guns in the years since Luo died — only recently as of this writing (in 2014) showing signs of faltering.

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1621: Rodrigo Calderon, ambitious

Add comment October 21st, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1621, Spain’s once-powerful Marquis of the Seven Churches fell as far as tragedy can drop a man.

Still to this day a Spanish emblem of the perils of ambition, Rodrigo Calderon hailed from the minor nobility in the rebellious Low Countries breaking away from Hapsburg rule.

Displaced to Spain, Calderon had a meteoric rise as the trusted henchman of the Duke of Lerma — who was himself the trusted (some say over-trusted) favorite of the Spanish King Philip III from the moment the latter came to the throne at age 20 in 1598. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.

Calderon’s who became perhaps Spain’s most powerful figure, and surely its most resented. By Philip’s own decree, nothing came to the royal quill but through his valido Lerma. Lerma dominated access to Philip and to a great extent, Calderon dominated access to Lerma. Both men prospered accordingly.

Calderon cut an operatic character — he’s one of those characters awaiting a suitably coruscating literary treatment, although Bulwer-Lytton gave it a shot — of zealotry mixed with greed. His family was the aristocratic equivalent of “new money”; his father had not been born to the nobility at all, and Calderon hustled to climb so high as he did. He did not mean to forego the emoluments of office, like the flattering Rubens portrait that illustrates this post.*

Inevitably, such a figure attracted the resentment of other courtiers, and not only courtiers.

Calderon almost fell in 1607 for extracting bribes far in excess of what acceptable corruption permitted. But he had by then the open enmity of the queen herself. It’s testimony to Lerma’s power that his patronage sufficed for Calderon to maintain his station in the face of such a powerful foe.

Queen Margaret died in 1611. The cause was complications from childbirth, but rumors, like this anonymous pamphlet, hinted at other hands in her death.

moved by the outcries of the people and the advice of wise and virtuous persons … felt obliged to confront the ill intentions of those who without doubt have caused her death. Her goal was to serve our Lord by promoting justice in the distribution of favors, appointments of good ministers, and the elimination of bribes, simonies, the sale of offices, and the promotion of unworthy and inept persons.

While not daring such an accusation, a friar preaching Margaret’s funeral sermon directly to Philip made bold that

a king has two wives, the queen and the community … the offspring of the first marrriage should be children. The offspring of the second marriage should be prudent laws, the appointment of good ministers, mercies to those who deserve them, the punishment of criminals, audiences to all your subjects, dedication to affairs of state, and the consolation of the afflicted. To repay God for the abundant offspring from the first marriage Your Majesty has to comply with your duties towards your second wife. (Both quotes via Kingship and Favoritism in the Spain of Philip III.)

Nothing troubled, Calderon had become a marquis by 1614.

But the rumor mill played the long game. Calderon’s patron Lerma was displaced by his son in 1618, leaving his longtime crony vulnerable to the next turn of fortune. That turn was the 1621 death of Philip III himself and the succession of a 16-year-old son, Philip IV.

It is said that when Calderon heard the bells tolling the elder Philip’s passing he remarked, “the king is dead, and I am dead.”

Determined to rein in the perceived decadences of the last era — this period was the peak, and the very start of the decline, of Spain’s wealth and global power — the younger Philip’s Lerma figure the Duke of Olivares had Calderon arrested. Regicide and witchcraft were right there on the charge sheet, but it was the murder of a different man in 1614 allegedly killed to keep him silent about Calderon’s misdeeds that sustained the sentence. A bit more exotic than regular beheading, Calderon had his throat slashed, then was left to bleed out on the scaffold.

As Calderon had come to personify courtly corruption, the new regime anticipated a salutary effect from making an example of him. To their surprise, the pitiless and obviously politically-motivated handling of the fellow — who bore his fate with lauded stoicism — made the late grasping aristocrat the subject of no small sympathy.

Calderon’s mummy, the executioner’s gash through its neck still gruesomely visible, is still preserved in Valladolid. (Link in Spanish, but more importantly, with pictures.)

* Calderon was himself a great collector of art.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Murder,Nobility,Pelf,Politicians,Popular Culture,Power,Public Executions,Put to the Sword,Spain,The Worm Turns

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2009: Li Peiying, corrupt aviation kingpin

Add comment August 7th, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 2009, China executed Li Peiying, the former chairman of a vast airport conglomerate that managed, among many others, Beijing Capital International Airport.

Li was convicted on corruption charges that netted £11 million in bribes and embezzled public funds from 1995 to 2003. Li’s case for leniency was that he gave it all back; the court’s case for aggravation was that Li had solicited (and not merely accepted) the bribes, an “extremely serious crime” resulting in “large economic losses.” For instance, nightclub mogul Qin Hui* was able to secure through Li $90 million in loans and guarantees

The state-owned Capital Airports Holding Co. that Li managed was reported at the time of his execution to employ 38,000 people and handle 30% of China’s air traffic.

In 2011, the successor to the corporate titancy Li was deposed from, Zhang Zhizhong, was himself convicted of wholesale corruption.** Perhaps in deference to China’s ongoing gradual de-escalation of penalties imposed for white-collar economic crimes, Zhang received only a 12-year prison sentence.

* Qin Hui shares a name with a villain in the classical story of Yue Fei. Our Qin Hui just owned the Paradise club in the Great Wall Sheraton.

** China’s aviation industry as a whole is notorious for corruption.

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2013: Zeng Chengjie, China’s Bernie Madoff

1 comment July 12th, 2014 Headsman

A year ago today, China executed self-made millionaire Zeng Chengjie for corruption.

Once the subject of glowing media profiles (Chinese link) for his entrepreneurship, Zeng was convicted of bilking 57,000-plus investors out of RMB 2.8 billion (US $460 million) which he in turn used to lock up lucrative urban development projects in Jishou.

The case stirred an uproar in China and overseas because Zeng’s daughter vigorously protested the execution on her Weibo page.

Zeng Shen said she was notified of her father’s execution only two days after it took place. The official story would be that Zeng never requested the family meeting; that story was met with incredulity. (And widespread speculation that Zeng’s organs were harvested for medical transplantation.)

“If one day, I’m sentenced to death and told that I have the right to meet my family, I guarantee that I will absolutely ask to see my family,” wrote IT venture capitalist Kai-Fu Lee on one of the country’s most-followed microblogging accounts. “If the court claims that I didn’t make such request after the execution, it must be a lie.”

Moreover, Zeng Shen charged that the whole affair was a political fix-up orchestrated by the successors of Hunan province officials that Zeng pere worked with — and that as a result the executed man’s assets had been snapped up for yuan on the renminbi.

China has made a point in recent years of dialing back capital punishment for white-collar “economic” crimes; most similar cases of fraud or theft result at worst in suspended death sentences, which are de facto prison terms.

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2010: Zeng Jinchun, corrupt anti-corruption official

Add comment December 30th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 2010, a former Communist Party of China (CPC) anti-corruption official was shot … for corruption.

Zeng, former secretary of the Chenzhou Municipal Commission for Discipline Inspection of the CPC and vice secretary of the CPC Chenzhou Municipal Committee, gorged on 31 million yuan ($4.7 million) in bribes from 1997 to 2006, doling out lucrative mining contracts and sinecures in exchange.

Although known in the Hunan coal-mining city as “a modern-day Heshen” — Chenzhou residents whose businesses had been widely subject to Zeng’s crude protection-racket shakedowns set off fireworks to celebrate his arrest — Zeng was all but impossible to dislodge.

Zeng bribed up to higher officials for protection as effectively as he squeezed those below. It’s just another piece of the graft so endemic in China that it’s frankly represented in popular literature. (And has often appeared on the execution grounds, too.)

“Officials, especially high-ranking ones, are basically not held accountable for paying bribes,” a journalist who wrote a book about Zeng told NPR. “This is because China’s judiciary is not independent enough.” Zeng wasn’t even charged with this crime — just extortion.

Zeng’s well-placed protectors defeated at least three investigations. He was only overcome by an order from the very top: President and Party Chairman Hu Jintao, who scribbled onto a secret report of Zeng’s antics,

“To Comrade Wu Guanzheng: Put more effort into investigating corruption in Chenzhou. Signed, Hu Jintao, July 19, 2006.”

Three months later, Zeng was under arrest.

The effects of power, corruption, privilege, and cutthroat economies did not go with him. After all, on the same date Zeng was put to death, officials elsewhere in Hunan province also announced the execution of one Chen Haitao for torching an airport shuttle bus. The blaze killed two and seriously injured three others.

Chen committed the arson to revenge society as he had “blamed his business failure on social injustice,” the court said in a statement.

On this day..

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