China's Railways Ministry fired 10 officials for fraud for allowing contractors to use substandard materials, including waste, to build railway bridges, state media reported on Monday.

It was the latest setback for the ministry, which has been plagued by a string of management, safety and financial problems.

China Railway No.9 Group Co, the main contractor for a 2.3 billion yuan ($363 million) project in northeast China's Jilin province, illegally subcontracted to unqualified companies in October, the China Daily said.

According to the newspaper, a former cook headed one team of workers to build the bridges with gravel, rocks and waste instead of concrete. The report did not give further detail about the material.

At least 10 officials were fired on Sunday, and the ministry fined railway authorities in the area and ordered the reconstruction of 16 piers and 2 bridges, it said.

This year, the government said it would suspend railway project approvals and launch safety checks on equipment to address public anger following a crash on a new high-speed rail line in July that killed 40 people and injured hundreds.

The Railway Ministry also faces soaring debt. In August, it said its total liabilities at the end of June were 2.1 trillion yuan (204 billion pounds), up by nearly half from the end of 2009 and bringing its liability-to-asset ratio up to 59 percent.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Sabrina Mao; Editing by Ken Wills and Robert Birsel)