71 punished for CCTV fire

China's main statecaster pays $440,000 for deadly blaze

BEIJING — Seventy-one people have been found responsible for a deadly fire last year triggered by an illegal fireworks display at the new headquarters of China's powerful state broadcaster, including 44 who face criminal charges, state media reported Wednesday.

China's Cabinet also ordered CCTV to pay a 3 million yuan ($440,000) fine for the Feb. 9, 2009, blaze that killed one firefighter, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. Six firefighters and two construction workers were injured.

CCTV arranged and paid for the unlicensed fireworks display at its complex in downtown Beijing to mark the end of the Lunar New Year festival. The fire engulfed a 520-foot (159-meter), 44-story building that was to house a luxury Mandarin Oriental Hotel and was just weeks away from opening.

In April, China's Cabinet ordered an investigation into the incident, indicating a high level of political sensitivity surrounding it. Such Cabinet investigations are usually reserved for major catastrophes causing huge loss of life.

The Xinhua report, posted on the Web site of the State Council, China's Cabinet, is the first public announcement of the investigation's findings.

Xinhua said 44 people are being prosecuted while 27 others have been given administrative punishments for their roles in the disaster.

The former head of CCTV, Zhao Huayong, who retired in May because he was over the official retirement age of 60, would receive an administrative demotion and a severe warning from the Communist Party, Xinhua said.

Among those facing criminal charges are the former head of CCTV's construction bureau, Xu Wei, and the vice head of the new CCTV site, Wang Shirong, it said. Earlier news reports alleged that Xu had ordered that the powerful pyrotechnics be used, while ignoring safety warnings.

The probe determined that the illegal fireworks display as well as substandard insulation materials caused the fire.

The burnt steel shell of the 5 billion yuan ($731 million) hotel has stood virtually untouched for the past year, though one of the lead architects on the project, Ole Scheeren, said in October that it would be salvaged.