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Judges sacked for giving life sentence for toll evasion

Beijing:  Two Chinese judges were sacked for sentencing a farmer to life for using fake military number plates to evade toll fees, amid a heated public debate over the severity of the punishment.
     
The ruling was also "overturned" by the Higher People's Court in Henan Province when it determined there was not enough evidence to convict the farmer.
    
On Sunday, the Court also announced penalties against several officials from its intermediate Pingdingshan court for neglect of duty. Lou Yanwei, a judge in the case, and presiding judge Hou Xiaokong were dismissed from their posts, while vice president of the court Ren Jianjun was suspended, state-run Global Times reported.
    
Pingdingshan court sentenced Shi Jianfeng to life in prison last week after finding him guilty of evading 3.68 million yuan (USD 557,800) in highway tolls. Fake military license plates were mounted on two trucks that carried gravel and avoided tolls more than 2,300 times because military vehicles are exempt.
    
The sentenced sparked public outcry over the severity of the punishment.
    
The higher court order comes a day after the farmer's younger brother Shi Junfeng turned himself to police, asserting that the license plates were purchased from local armed police division personnel. He showed a one-year contract that was signed by two officials.
     
"If there is evidence to show that the stamp is fake, trading of the vehicle licenses must have been a means for the armed police or individual police officers to make extra money," Chang Boyang, Shi Junfeng's lawyer, was quoted as saying by Global Times.
     
He added that if this were the case, life imprisonment was not justified, as the vehicle licenses were not forged but illegally provided by the armed police officers.
     
Meanwhile, the case also focused on the amount of toll being collected in China making it inviable for people to travel. Guo Baozhen, Chief Justice of Pingdingshan Court, said, "I was also shocked at the number (of toll figures quoted in the case). So we asked investigators to double check the figure. After thorough investigation, they found 3.68 million yuan refers not only to the tolls, but also includes penalties for the overloading the trucks."
    
The farmer argued that the toll made his business inviable as for every trip he had to pay 300 Yuan (USD 46) per vehicle for 700 Yuan cargo. With the fuel charges to travel more than 100 km, he got nothing out his hard work.
Story First Published: January 17, 2011 14:36 IST

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