Beijing, Nov 19 (IANS) China Friday executed an official for stealing and selling cultural relics protected by the state, reports Xinhua.
Li Haitao was the chief of the cultural relics protection authority of the imperial garden in the Hebei provincial capital of Chengde.
He was executed after China's Supreme People's Court approved the death penalty on a conviction of embezzlement, the Intermediate People's Court of Chengde said.
By taking advantage of his post between 1993 and 2002, Li had stolen 259 cultural relics stored in the depository of the Eight Outer Temples, an imperial compound built on the three-century old Summer Mountain Resort.
Li, 50, replaced the relics with copies, inferior or incomplete objects, and asked his subordinates to alter the records.
The stolen items included gold gilded Buddha statues, five of which were listed as state relics under first class protection, 56 were in the second grade and 58 in the third.
Li pocketed more than 3.2 million yuan ($482,240) after selling 152 stolen pieces.
Police have seized 202 relics and are still hunting for 57 other items.
Li's four accomplices -- Wang Xiaoguang, Yan Feng, Zhang Huazhang and Chen Fengwei -- were given jail terms of up to seven years with fines.
His crimes went unnoticed until a Chinese expert found two royal cultural relics belonging to Beijing's Palace Museum at an auction in Hong Kong in 2002.
The expert reported his discovery to the state cultural heritage authorities, which prompted a probe that found Chengde was the source of the relics.
Covering an area of 5.6 million sq metres, the Summer Mountain Resort was the temporary imperial palace of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) emperors Kangxi and Qianlong.
The mountain villa, the largest remaining classical imperial garden architecture in China, and the outlying temples were placed on the World Heritage list in 1994.