updated 3/25/2009 7:21:40 AM ET 2009-03-25T11:21:40

A dozen people have been formally arrested in connection with a fire at a Beijing hotel blamed on an illegal fireworks display staged by Chinese state broadcaster CCTV, state media reported Wednesday.

They include the former head of CCTV's construction bureau, 50-year-old Xu Wei. News reports have said he ordered the pyrotechnics while ignoring safety warnings.

The suspects were detained Feb. 11 but weren't formally arrested until this month, the official Xinhua News Agency said. The step almost guarantees they will be indicted and face trial; Xinhua said they could face seven years in prison.

The Feb. 10 inferno in the nearly completed Mandarin Oriental Hotel next to CCTV's iconic new headquarters building was a massive embarrassment for the state broadcaster. The 5 billion yuan ($731 million) building was gutted, and one fireman died from smoke inhalation in the blaze that raged spectacularly over the city's eastern district for five hours.

The hotel, which also housed television studios, a visitor's center and exhibition space, had helped transform the capital's skyline for last year's Olympics.

The disaster prompted mocking from some Chinese who resent CCTV for producing dull propaganda-style programming while enjoying a monopoly on nationwide broadcasting. The company also has drawn jeers for spending lavishly on grandiose projects, such as its futuristic headquarters complex.

CCTV has apologized for the fire while seeking to squelch discussion of it. CCTV employees, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to avoid retribution from their employer, say they have been ordered not to talk about the fire, even among themselves.

Bonuses canceled
The employees also say sizable bonuses due to be paid to most employees have been canceled as a result of the fire. CCTV reaped huge profits from broadcasting last year's Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, and some bonuses were supposed to top 80,000 yuan ($11,700), they said.

CCTV has said the fireworks were powerful enough to require a special permit, but the broadcaster didn't apply for permission and ignored police safety warnings.

Others arrested included eight members of the pyrotechnics crew who fled the scene after the fire broke out, as well as three other CCTV employees who worked under Xu.

Fireworks are usually banned in downtown Beijing, although the rule is waived for two weeks over the Lunar New Year holiday. The hotel caught fire on the final day of that period, when massive barrages exploded for hours throughout the city.

More on Beijing   |  Mandarin Oriental Hotel

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