BEIJING (AP) — Chinese police said Friday they've arrested five people in connection with a phony bank that used bogus offices and tellers to bilk depositors out of $32 million.
More than 200 customers were caught up in the scam based in the eastern city of Nanjing, according to a statement on the local police's microblog.
Most were business owners from the surrounding province of Jiangsu attracted by promises of high interest rates on deposits, the statement said.
Police said the scammers filled their offices with all the accoutrements of a real state-owned bank, including uniformed staff.
The scam's mastermind, identified by his surname Liu, and four assistants were in custody, including one woman who had fled to the gambling enclave of Macau with the depositors' funds, the statement said.
The scam was uncovered after an investor who had deposited $2 million complained to police when he was unable to collect interest or withdraw his funds.
Low rates of return in the formal financial sector have prompted many Chinese to turn to unregulated or illegal investment schemes, often resulting in massive losses and the arrests of the ringleaders.
The police statement quoted Liu as saying he knew the scheme was illegal, but had planned to invest and lend the depositors' funds in order to pay the high rates of interest promised. However, he said much of the money was never recovered.