China: A Death Sentence to Hide Government Corruption?

Wu Ying, named China's sixth richest woman in 2006, lost an appeal against her death sentence at the Zhejiang Higher People's Court on January 18, 2012. Many citizens have pleaded online for Wu's life believing the death sentence was meant to silence her from exposing corruption by government officials who may have loaned her embezzled public funds.

Suspicions grew stronger when Dong Yang City government submitted a joint letter to the courts recommending she be executed.

The 30-year old was first arrested in March 2007, charged with “illegal fundraising” of RMB 770 million (approximately USD 122 million). In December 18, 2009, the charge was changed to “financial fraud”, and she was sentenced to death by the Jinhua Intermediate People's Court. In Wu's first trial, there was no lawyer to represent her, and all trials including the appeal took place behind closed doors.

Human rights lawyer, Teng Biao, has written a very long article [zh] explaining some of the details known about Wu Ying's court case.

Wu Ying stood trial for financial fraud and was sentenced to death. Screen captured photo from NTDTV

A loan shark list

Wu started a beauty parlor business in Dong Yang city at the age of 22 in 2003. Her business then expanded to entertainment business and property investments. As is common for private entrepreneurs in China, she had difficulty obtaining loans from banks and had to raise funds by other means. In December 2006, her business had cash flow problems and she failed to pay back a debt to loan sharks. She was kidnapped, robbed and received death threats soon after she was released. Local police officers did not investigate her case. Instead, several months later, she was arrested.

During Wu's detention, she exposed a list of government officials who had illegally lent money to her. Three of them received long jail sentences. Later, local newspapers revealed [zh] that Wu had shared a list of 137 names of which 103 had lent her more than RMB 500,000. The speculation is that many local government officials may have been implicated. Officials who receive bribes, or obtain funds by other illegal means, are suspected of lending money to private businesses at high interest rates.

Inevitable illegal fundraising

Teng Biao points out [zh] that under the current financial system it is inevitable for the private business sector not to commit “illegal fundraising”; in other words, most of the successful private businesses in China have probably committed Wu Ying's “crime”:


Without support from the banks, private businesses have to borrow money from the market. According to statistics, only 20% of short term bank loans go to private businesses. A bank survey shows that more than 90% SMEs [Small and Medium-sized Enterprises] said they had failed to obtain loans from banks. More than 62.3% of family businesses obtain their capital from the market.

An unjust system

Blogger Li Ming points out [zh], that if Wu must die, many more would follow:


If Wu must be killed, the runaway bosses in Wenzhou must be killed too. Those gamblers who borrow money from loan sharks, those bosses who show off their wealth with corporate money must be killed too. Now we have a group of business losers enjoying the government's bailout, while Wu Ying in a similar condition has been sentenced to death. This is so unjust. The law is evil.

Yao Shujie, an overseas scholar, observed more injustice in mainland Chinese society [zh]:





Wu Ying has only inflicted damage on 11 people. In the case of the listed companies, their failure would bring harm to millions of people. There is no different between Wu Ying and the CEOs of the listed companies but Wu has been sentenced to death, while all these CEOs are taking millions of paychecks and bonuses, and have a bright future waiting for them.

Corrupt officials such as Xu Zhonghang and Liu Zhijun, their cases involved tens of billions of RMB and the harm they caused is a thousand times more serious than Wu's. They were not sentenced to death.

Twelve years ago, Lai Changxing committed a RMB 70 billion corruption scandal. Since he managed to escape to Canada for 11 years, he received amnesty from the death sentence upon his return.

In one and the same country, people have such different fates. No wonder some think Wu's death sentence is a [source of] great entertainment to corrupt officials and Lai Changxing.

Is the death sentence really about Wu Ying's economic activities? Independent writer, Ye Kuangzheng, from Beijing does not think so [zh]:


The government officials’ joint letter demanding Wu Ying's death is not just to silence her but to threaten others. Who else dares to expose the corruption of government officials during their detention? There are millions of dollars missing from Wu's bank accounts – who has taken the money? Once Wu is dead, who else can give us a clue? Are there interlocking interests behind all this? How come some of the government officials involved in the case are still uncharged? Even if Wu did deserve such a harsh penalty, we should still wait until the full truth is revealed before seeing her die.


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