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Politics

ZTE whistleblower convicted of corruption in Philippines

MANILA -- A former IT consultant who accused Philippine government officials of taking bribes from Chinese telecom company ZTE Corp. over a botched national broadband network project has been convicted of graft in an unrelated case.

Rodolfo Lozada was convicted of corruption for illegally leasing a parcel of land to his brother while he was the chief executive of Philippine Forest, a state-owned company. He faces up to 10 years in prison following the verdict handed down Tuesday.

Lozada rose to prominence in 2007, when he aired allegations of payoffs to Philippine officials who brokered the $329.48 million broadband deal with ZTE.

The bribery claim damaged the reputations of former President Gloria Arroyo and her husband, Mike, who allegedly made money from the transaction. Arroyo has denied the allegations and corruption charges against her are still being heard by an anti-graft court.

Arroyo canceled the deal in October 2007 while on a state visit to China in the wake of the controversy. The canceled deal did little to hurt relations between the Philippines and China, which were then blossoming. But the scuttled contract made Chinese companies more cautious in negotiating big-ticket projects with Manila.

At the time, China and the Philippines were in talks over an economic cooperation framework involving investments and projects between the two countries. Relations have since soured over maritime disputes in the South China Sea.

New Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, however, has taken a conciliatory tone toward China following a landmark victory at a tribunal convened by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. The ruling nullified China's claim to nearly the entire South China Sea. China has rejected the decision and vowed to ignore it. Duterte has mentioned the possibility of China funding the Mindanao Railway Project in the southern Philippines in an effort to mend strained ties.

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