Authorities in the northern Chinese province of Shaanxi are investigating a former banking official accused online of amassing a huge Beijing property portfolio using forged identities, according to an official statement on Tuesday.
Gong Aiai, a former deputy head of the Shenmu County Rural Commercial Bank in Shaanxi's Yulin city, was detained formally on Monday after the allegations that she owned more than 20 properties under false names surfaced on the Internet, with evidence from whistle-blowers.
Gong was detained on suspicion of "forging documents and government stamps" and is currently being held in police custody in Yulin city, a Shenmu county government spokesman was quoted as saying in official media.
An employee who answered the phone at the Shenmu county police department on Tuesday declined to comment, however.
"I don't know," the employee said. "Sorry, no comment."
The investigation revealed that Gong was in possession of four "hukou," a unique household registration similar to a birth certificate which gives access to services in specific locations.
Three of them, two in Shaanxi and one in Beijing, were found to be fake, and have since been revoked, the English-language China Daily newspaper reported.
The paper said that a further seven people, including four police officers, have been detained in connection with the forging of the documents.
Gong, who is nicknamed online "the house lady," is thought to have accumulated more than 20 properties worth an estimated 1 billion yuan (U.S.$159 million) in Beijing using fake documents.
She had resigned from her job at the bank in June to "run her family business," the China Daily said.
Zhang Xin, chief executive officer of Beijing real estate firm Soho Properties, which was one of the companies used by Gong, said via the popular microblogging service Sina Weibo: "We have no way to establish the source of our clients' funding, but we will collaborate with any government investigation."
"It is rumor-mongering to accuse us of money-laundering or of receiving a huge commission."
Exposed by netizens
Veteran journalist Zan Aizong said Gong's was unlikely to be an isolated case, however.
"No sooner do they get a little bit of power, than they start with the graft, because there are no checks and balances on their power," Zan said. "Even officials with no power get to eat, drink, spend, and drive around at public expense."
"The high-ranking officials are corrupt in a big way, and the lower-ranking ones are corrupt in small ways; there are none who are not corrupt," he said.
Zan said the exposure of Gong's property portfolio by netizens pointed to a failure on the part of the ruling Communist Party to keep tabs on what its officials were doing.
"The central commission for discipline inspection is a waste of space."
"It's only when people start using the 'human flesh search engine' to secure real evidence and then start posting that online, of their own accord [that something is done]," he said, referring to the Chinese internet phenomenon of using social media crowd-sourcing to expose individuals to public humiliation.
"The officials in the discipline inspection commission and the anti-corruption bureau are the same [as those they investigate]," he said. "They all have a lot of illegal sources of income."
Incoming president Xi Jinping, who takes over formally from president Hu Jintao in March, has warned that the Party must beat graft or lose power, sparking a nationwide clampdown on corruption.
However, political analysts say that officials with friends in high places are unlikely to be touched by the crackdown, and reports suggest many are liquidating their assets and making moves overseas.
China scored poorly in an annual global corruption index published last year by Transparency International, which measures perceptions of corruption around the world.
Mainland China ranked 80th out of 176 countries, down five places from the previous year.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.