Chinese Court Cuts Sentence of Hairdresser-Turned-Billionaire Wu Ying

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Billionaire Wu Ying (L) during her trial in May 2012 and undated photo of her father, Wu Yongzheng (R).
Billionaire Wu Ying (L) during her trial in May 2012 and undated photo of her father, Wu Yongzheng (R).
Courtesy of Wu Yongzheng.

An appeals court in the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang has cut a prison sentence handed down to a former billionaire businesswoman for fraud for a second time, but her family say they are still trying to recover assets that were confiscated "outside the law" and pursue an appeal against her guilty verdict.

Wu Ying, a former hair-salon boss who made her billions through off-the-books lending schemes, was sentenced to death in 2009 by the Intermediate People's Court in Zhejiang's Jinhua city, which found her guilty of raising 770 million yuan (U.S. $122 million) through illegal lending networks.

Wu also stood accused of promising her investors huge returns on their investments through the then-booming property market, but she was widely seen as a scapegoat in a system in which a corrupt political elite routinely get away with far-worse excesses at taxpayers' expense.

The death sentence was later suspended for two years pending a judicial review, and a high-profile public campaign in her support.

In a sentence review at the Zhejiang Women's Prison, judges cut her life imprisonment sentence to a fixed term of 25 years after delaying the hearing since May last year, her father Wu Yongzheng told RFA on Friday.

"They have used delaying tactics all along," Wu said. He said a promised appeal against her sentence by the Higher People's Court in Zhejiang had yet to materialize.

"If the Higher People's Court believes that the original verdict was correct, then they should quash the appeal using formal legal documents," he said. "Then we could take the appeal to the Supreme People's Court."

He said the appeals process has been stalled since 2013, and an appeal to return assets confiscated from Wu Ying had also been refused.

"We have been trying to do this since 2013, but the Zhejiang Higher People's Court will neither take on the appeal, nor quash it. All they do is drag their feet," he said.

Unofficial money markets

He said the family is also appealing against the manner in which Wu Ying's assets were seized.

"The people in charge of the case against Wu Ying have been acting outside the law, but they have never been held to account," he said. "The judiciary in Zhejiang is very corrupt; it's really hard to put into a few words."

"They are still monitoring my cell phone, even now," he said.

Wu Ying, the former president of Bense Holding Group, was accused of "squandering" around half the amount she raised between 2005 and 2007 on luxury cars, jewellery, and real estate.

Her case sparked widespread calls for the legalization and regulation of China's unofficial money markets, which have sprung up as a way around the state monopoly on bank loans.

The campaign to revoke Wu's death sentence spread rapidly via China's hugely popular microblogging service and included some high-profile figures, including Zhang Sizhi, the 85-year-old lawyer who defended Mao Zedong's wife Jiang Qing during the trial of the Gang of Four in 1976.

Zhang, who argued that Jiang was following Mao's orders at all times, said that Wu invested in hotels, advertising, wedding planning, and transport companies with money from friends and family, not the general public.

Reported by Wong Siu-san and Yeung Mak for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.





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