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Ex-head of China insurance regulator pleads guilty to bribes

© AFP/File | Xiang Junbo, 61, is most senior financial regulator to be targeted in President Xi Jinping's ongoing crackdown on corruption

BEIJING (AFP) - 

The former head of China's insurance regulator pleaded guilty to accepting 19 million yuan ($3 million) in bribes at his trial in eastern Jiangsu province on Thursday, state media said.

Xiang Junbo, 61, admitted to taking bribes directly and through an associate and "showed repentance" at Changzhou Intermediate People's Court, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported. The court has not yet issued its verdict.

The most senior financial regulator to be targeted in President Xi Jinping's ongoing corruption crackdown, Xiang was accused of taking advantage of his official positions from 2005 to 2017.

He allegedly provided assistance in project contracting, approvals, loan issuance, and other tasks in exchange for compensation.

Xiang was appointed to the top job at the regulatory commission in 2011, following stints as deputy governor of the central bank and head of the state-owned Agricultural Bank of China.

He was put under investigation in April last year by the Communist Party's anti-corruption watchdog for suspected "serious disciplinary violations", a phrase that usually refers to graft.

He was removed from his position immediately after the probe began.

Xiang's time as head of the insurance regulator marked a period of rapid growth for the industry as he pushed for the liberalisation of investment rules, which allowed Chinese insurers to invest more of their assets at home and abroad.

But this led to regulatory headaches after several high-profile cases in which insurance companies used their financial holdings to fund risky acquisitions in real estate and unlisted equities.

The China Insurance Regulatory Commission and the China Banking Regulatory Commission were replaced by a banking and insurance regulatory commission after a major restructuring of government agencies in March.

Xiang's guilty plea comes a month after the former high-flying head of troubled Anbang Insurance Group, Wu Xiaohui, was sentenced to 18 years in prison for defrauding the company of more than $10 billion.

Wu was toppled as Anbang's head last year and China's insurance regulator announced an unprecedented takeover of the conglomerate in February, as the government moves to prevent heavily indebted large private companies from collapsing and posing a risk to the financial system.

© 2018 AFP