[JURIST] Chinese courts convicted 14 government officials and company executives on Wednesday due to their involvement in a 2014 factory explosion that killed 146 workers because of inappropriately stored chemicals. The sentences [Xinhua report], for the crime of causing a major labor safety accident or dereliction of duty, range from three to seven-and-a-half years. The arrests come after China's procuratorate opened an investigation [Xinhua report] on more than 26 individuals and after the Tianjin Mayor Huang Xingguo announced that the owners of the hazmat facility that exploded [JURIST report] in the city used their political connections to build the facility despite violating safety rules. One rule barred [NYT report] storage of hazardous chemicals within 3,200 feet of residential areas, much farther than the storage facility was actually located. One owner, Doug Shexuan, is the son of a former police chief and the other owner, Yu Xuewei, is a former executive at a state-owned chemical company. The two men purposefully concealed their ownership in the company so that they could secretly use their personal relationships with government officials to obtain licenses for building the facility.
China has a history of imposing severe sentences on officials and others found responsible for high-profile incidents. In August the government announced regulations [Xinhua report], which it said had been in place since August 9, holding those overseeing chemical facilities responsible if they fail to take safety precautions. In May 2011, the country said it would impose the death sentence [JURIST report] and other harsh penalties for officials found liable in food safety cases. In September 2010, officials in China's Shanxi province arrested seven individuals [JURIST report], including the executive of a dairy company, after that company's powdered milk was found to contain melamine. In July 2010, Chinese authorities discovered 64 tons of raw dairy materials [Xinhua report] contaminated with melamine in Qinghai province. In February, Chinese police arrested three individuals [JURIST report] for their roles in the 2008 tainted milk scandal. Two other individuals were executed [JURIST report] in November 2009 after being convicted of endangering public safety and selling toxic food.