Chinese tycoon jailed after death sentence revoked

AP News
Posted: May 21, 2012 7:01 AM
Chinese tycoon jailed after death sentence revoked

A former Chinese tycoon who was convicted of illegally raising money for her business was sentenced Monday to prison after China's supreme court overturned a death sentence following a public outcry.

After a retrial, Wu Ying was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve, the Zhejiang Province High People's court said on its website. Such penalties usually are commuted to long prison terms if the convict is deemed to have reformed.

Wu's case prompted public discussion of the difficulties entrepreneurs face in raising money in China's state-dominated financial system. Her initial sentence of death triggered complaints on Internet bulletin boards that it was too severe in a country where corrupt Communist Party figures often escape punishment.

Wu, 31, became famous for rising from poverty to build a multimillion-dollar business from a single hair salon. She was later convicted of illegally raising 770 million yuan ($120 million) from investors in 2005-07 and sentenced to death.

All death sentences are automatically reviewed by the Supreme People's Court, but in an apparent effort to mollify public anger, the court took the unusual step of announcing it had received Wu's case and would review it "with care."

The supreme court rejected the death penalty in April and returned the case to Wu's home province of Zhejiang for resentencing. Wu's father publicly demanded a change of venue away from courts in Zhejiang after that ruling and insisted his daughter was innocent.

Wu's new penalty spared her life but still could result in many years in prison.

The court said the sentence was justified because "the amount involved is especially huge, causing major losses to the victims and the behavior severely damaged the country's financial management order."

China has a thriving underground banking system used by entrepreneurs to borrow money at high interest rates.

Wu was convicted of promising high interest to attract money for "fictitious investment projects," Monday's announcement said, without giving details.

Communist authorities tolerated underground lending as a way to support entrepreneurs who create jobs and tax revenue. But they began cracking down after its rapid growth prompted concern it might affect the official financial system, and a wave of defaults in a number of areas prompted protests.

The communist government has promised to launch a pilot project in Wu's home city of Wenzhou, a center for private enterprise, aimed at making it easier for entrepreneurs to get bank loans.

In March, Premier Wen Jiabao told reporters Wu's case shows the development of private sector lending has not kept up with China's needs. Wen said he hoped courts would "seek truth from facts."

Human rights activists have appealed to the Chinese government to stop imposing death penalties for financial and other nonviolent crimes. The government does not disclose how many people are executed each year in China but Amnesty International and other groups estimate the total is in the thousands.

Last week, a fugitive Chinese businessman who was wanted in a high-profile smuggling scandal was sentenced to life in prison after being repatriated by Canada following a Chinese promise he would not be executed.