Son of Chinese government official tried to bribe his Bath University professor

The son of a Chinese government official was jailed yesterday for trying to bribe a British university professor with £5,000 to pass his degree.

Yang Li also took an imitation firearm into the meeting with the don and another senior academic at Bath University.

A court heard that Li, 26, was studying a masters degree in innovation and technology management and feared failure.

He was dismayed to learn he had been given just 37 per cent for his dissertation which was a fail - and would have meant him spending an extra year at the university.

That would have affected Li’s visa which he was hoping to upgrade from a student visa to a tier 1 visa.

Li, who was born and educated in China, asked to meet Professor Andrew Graves and Dr Stephen Shepherd to discuss his options.

Bristol Crown Court heard he told the pair ‘I am a businessman’ before placing £5,000 in cash on the table.

He then said: 'There is a fourth option, you can keep the money if you give me a pass mark and I won’t bother you again.'

When that failed and he was asked to leave he picked up his coat and a 0.177 air pistol fell from the pocket.

Defending Li, Blake James said Mr Li came from an affluent family in China, where his father is a respected government official and businessman.

Mr James said Li was not a 'sham student' and had come to the UK in 2006 for a Computer Science degree at the University of Bath, which he passed.

He claimed Li had withdrawn the money that morning ‘for the weekend’ and had not meant to use it as a bribe.

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He added that the gun was in his pocket as he thought it was safer than the car, and he had no intention of using the weapon which he used for target practice.

Mr Blake-James said: 'Mr Li is someone who is used to carrying large amounts of cash with him.

'He was not thinking straight, he made an impulsive decision to use the money he had on him, which was a ridiculous gesture and ill-thought through.'

He added: 'One of Mr Li’s pleasures is shooting in the garden of his house, and he intended to return to it after the meeting.

'He had the gun in the pocket of his coat as he didn’t want to leave it in the car, he felt it was safer with him.

Li, 26, was studying a masters degree in innovation and technology management at the University of Bath

'It was in no way connected to his meeting.

'In his haste to leave the meeting, he picked up his coat and the gun fell to the floor.'

Mr Blake-James said Li was of good character and from an affluent and successful family, with his father a Chinese government official and businessman.

His parents, wife, who is also studying at the university, and parents in law were in court to support him.

Documents show Li was progressing well in his masters course until he failed the dissertation, he said.

At the time of the final module, Li was working for his father’s firm, earning £25,000 a year with a bonus of £11,000, as well as studying.

Prosecuting, Mark Hollier said: 'The final part of the course is for students to submit a dissertation of about 12,000 words. That had to be in by the first week of September. Mr Li’s dissertation was submitted that September last year.

'It was marked by Professor Graves. The pass mark is 40 per cent and the mark awarded was 37 per cent.'

Li’s dissertation mark was checked by external examiners from Oxford and Cambridge University and found to be correct, Mr Hollier added.

Firearm: When Li's attempts at bribery failed and he was asked to leave he picked up his coat and this air pistol fell from the pocket

Li, 26, of Wellsway, Bath, admitted bribery and possession of an imitation firearm.
He was sentenced to 12 months in prison for bribery and six months on the firearms charge, to run concurrently.

Judge Michael Longman told him: 'Any form of corruption or incitement to a person in any manner amounts to a serious offence which must be taken seriously by the court.

'Your bid to achieve a pass mark by offering what was a bribe to your professor was ill conceived to the point of being a spectacular mistake and one which was doomed to fail from the start.

'You withdrew the large sum of money that morning, and I do not accept that offering the money was on impulse or done in the heat of the moment.

'It was planned and deliberate and demonstrated a failure to comprehend the high standards adhered to by the public and private offices in the UK.

'This was made even more serious by the fact that you had an imitation firearm in your possession.

'I have no doubt that it provoked fear in Professor Graves, though I am satisfied that you did not acquire it for the purpose of the meeting.

'But you plainly did know you had it on you, and you risked others at the meeting seeing it.'

Li, who has spent five months in custody, plans to return to China with his wife after his release because his current visa has now expired.

Wealthy Chinese families are spending fortunes getting their children into prestigious British universities and are increasingly turning to agents to help find places.

One such company BE Education, set up by British entrepreneur and old-Etonian William Vanbergen, 30, in 2003, promises to 'prepare China’s young future leaders for success in an increasingly interconnected world'.

BE Education has placed 24 Chinese students in UK universities and regularly gets about 150 a year into British public schools.

The firm’s fees have reportedly now risen to £100,000 for successfully placing candidates in top establishments.

In total, 78,715 students from China attended UK universities in 2011/12, a 17 per cent rise in the last academic year.

British businessman Neil Heywood, who was murdered in China in 2011, is understood to have arranged admission to his old school Harrow for the son of Chinese politician Bo Xilai.

Last year Bo Xilai's wife Gu Kailai, 53, was found guilty of poisoning Mr Heywood and sentenced to 14 years in jail.

The son, Bo Guagua, who later went to Oxford and Harvard, was said to have fallen into an ‘economic dispute’ dispute with Mr Heywood.Bo, known for a love of champagne and shisha parties while studying at Oxford, was allegedly told by Mr Heywood: ‘If you do not give me £13million, you will be destroyed.’