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Second drug safety official put on trial for corruption

Former assistant of the head of China's pharmaceutical regulator went under trial Thursday for bribery, a Beijing court official said.

No judgment was made Thursday and reporters were not allowed to enter the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People's Court, but the Beijing Evening News reported that the defendant, Cao Wenzhuan, denied the charges.

Cao, 45, was pharmaceutical registration department director at the State Food and Drug Administration, and had the power to approve pharmaceutical production in China from 2002 to 2006.

In the 1980s, he was secretary to the head of the agency, Zheng Xiaoyu, now at the heart of a drug scandal that comes as the Chinese government is facing increased pressure from the United States and other countries to improve food and drug safety - after tainted and substandard Chinese products killed people in Panama, and pets in North America.

Cao was charged with accepting 2.34 million yuan (US$307,000; EUR229,000) in bribes from two medical companies based in Jilin and Guangdong provinces, which wanted approval to sell their products. He was also charged with not fulfilling his duties in approving drugs.

A court official, who refused to be identified, confirmed that the trial started Thursday.

Others with knowledge of the case said the indictment described the allegations against Cao as "extremely serious."

Lawyers representing Cao, Gao Zicheng and Zeng Zhijun declined to comment.

Zheng has appealed his death sentence, saying he had cooperated with investigators and confessed his crimes. He was convicted of taking cash and gifts worth 6.49 million yuan (US$832,000; EUR619,000), while the State Food and Drug Administration he headed issued approvals for drugs that later proved to be fake and in some cases deadly.

During Zheng's tenure from 1998 to 2005, the agency approved six medicines that turned out to be fake, and the drug-makers used falsified documents to apply for approvals, according to previous state media reports. One antibiotic caused the deaths of at least six people.

Late last year, Hao Heping, who was in charge of medical equipment supervision at the agency, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for corruption.