China court sharply reduces jail term for road toll dodger

Crowded Chinese motoway (file photo)
Image caption Vehicles with military plates are exempt from the onerous tolls on major roads

A Chinese man originally sentenced to life imprisonment for evading road tolls has had his term reduced to two-and-a-half years, state media say.

At the retrial, the court in central Henan province also fined Shi Jianfeng $1,500 (£1,000).

He was accused of dodging more than $560,000 in road tolls by putting fake military licence plates on his lorries.

Earlier, two judges were sacked for having sentenced Shi Jianfeng - a farmer - to life in prison.

The retrial was ordered after a rare public outcry over a legal system that many consider unfair and politically motivated.

In another twist, the man's younger brother came forward after the original trial and surrendered to police, saying he was to blame for the fraud.

Vehicles with military plates are exempt from the onerous tolls on major roads that can add hundreds of dollars to the cost of transporting goods over long distances.

'Criminals in legal coats'

Shi Jianfeng, 43, was found guilty of evading toll fees over a nine-month period while delivering sand and gravel in two trucks.

He had argued that he was being "manipulated by a relative".

Then Shi Junfeng turned himself in to police in Yuzhou City, saying his brother had taken the blame for him.

It appears he had not thought his older brother would be sentenced so severely, telling police he had offered bribes to officials and had been assured he would be released quickly.

Many in China argued that far more lenient sentences are usually given for more serious crimes. There were also complaints that road tolls, required on most major roads, are too high for ordinary people to be able to afford.

An opinion feature in the Global Times newspaper said the "exorbitant tolls, rather than the man's bad behaviour" provoked the outcry.

The newspaper says those who set toll fees are referred to by some as "criminals in legal coats".

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