BEIJING, China (Reuters) -- China sentenced the former head of the State Food and Drug Administration to death for corruption, state media reported on Tuesday, in an unusually harsh sentence which could be reduced on appeal.
Corruption and food safety have preoccupied Chinese leaders as they grapple with the fallout overseas after a series of scandals involving toxins in food and other products.
Zheng Xiaoyu was convicted on charges of taking bribes and dereliction of duty, Xinhua news agency reported, citing the the Beijing Municipal No. 1 Intermediate People's Court.
Zheng, 62, headed the watchdog agency from 1998 to 2005 but was expelled from the ruling Communist Party earlier this year after investigators said he abused the administration's approval powers to obtain bribes and win illegal profits from drug companies.
The last time China sentenced an official of Zheng's rank to death was in 2000, when Hu Changqing, a vice governor of the eastern Jiangxi province, and Cheng Kejie, a vice head of the National People's Congress, were executed for taking bribes.
Local media reported separately that families of Chinese patients killed by a fake medical ingredient maker linked to widespread deaths in Panama have sued the southern Chinese hospital that gave toxic injections.
The 10 plaintiffs include family of patients of the Zhongshan University Number Three Hospital in southern Guangzhou city killed by tainted medicine, the China News Service reported, citing Guangzhou newspapers.
They are demanding more than 20 million yuan ($2.6 million) total compensation after the hospital gave injections of fake Armillarisni A, made by the Qiqihar No. 2 Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd., based in the country's northeast, a lawyer for the hospital told the Information Times, a Guangzhou paper.
"These incidents have exposed serious problems in the production and distribution of medicines," the Information Times cited one of the plaintiffs' lawyers as saying in the hearing that began on Monday.
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