Oct 31, 9:14 AM EDT

Chinese official allegedly hides $33M in bribes

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BEIJING (AP) -- Investigators in China have found more than 200 million yuan ($33 million) in cash at the home of an energy official accused of receiving bribes, in the country's largest cash seizure ever, a senior prosecutor said Friday.

If all that money was in 100-yuan notes, China's largest cash denomination, it would pile 200 meters (656 feet) high - more than two-thirds the height of the Eiffel Tower, and weigh more than 2 metric tons (2.2 U.S. tons).

Xu Jinhui, a top anti-graft prosecutor, told reporters the cash was seized at the home of Wei Pengyuan, deputy chief of the coal bureau under the National Energy Administration. Wei is under investigation for alleged corruption.

Investigators wore out four of the 16 cash-counting machines brought in to measure the stash, financial news publication Caixin reported.

The amount was impressive even in the context of the enormous amounts of cash Chinese investigators routinely seize from officials suspected of corruption. Bribe-takers have been inclined to stash cash in safety boxes, toilets, inside pillows, at the bottom of rice containers and in rented apartments to avoid leaving any records of the ill-gotten money.

Wei's energy administration is part of the all-powerful National Development and Reform Commission that sets broad policies for the world's second-largest economy.

Xu said 11 commission employees are under investigation for alleged corruption and six may have each received more than tens of millions of yuan (millions of dollars) in bribes.

"They not only drafted macroeconomic policies but also had the authority to approve projects," Xu said. "They directly controlled the interests of many companies. They were prone to corruption because their favors were highly sought after."

Xu also blamed a lack of supervision for massive corruption in the commission and said taking bribes became a common practice of many employees.

The commission's former deputy chief, Liu Tienan, went on trial on corruption charges in September. He is accused of receiving 36 million yuan in bribes from five companies, including petrochemical and automobile manufacturers, from 2002 to 2012. The court has not yet given its ruling.

Endemic corruption prompted the Chinese leadership to launch an extensive anti-graft crackdown in late 2012. The ruling Communist Party has warned that corruption erodes public trust and threatens the legitimacy of the party's rule.

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