Every Red Cent

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Over the weekend, Xinhua reported the latest in the Shanghai corruption scandal which was responsible for the dismissal of the city’s Communist Party Secretary Chen Liangyu. Chen was removed from his post last September and put under “joint regulations,” a special kind of extra-judicial disciplinary regime reserved for high-ranking members of the Communist Party, for (ostensibly at least) his involvement in embezzling of hundreds of millions of dollars of the city’s pension fund. Since then other officials have been arrested or removed from their posts (again, ostensibly) for their participation in the same affair. The whole probe has been a murky business which may be motivated mostly by political rivalry in the leadership.

Anyway, Sunday Xinhua ran a story in which Shanghai’s mayor (and acting Party Secretary) Han Zheng cheerfully reports that “the city has retrieved every cent that was siphoned off the Shanghai social security fund for illicit loans and investments last year.” For those of you keeping track, that’s 407.6 million dollars.

For real? Every cent? Wow. Those anti-corruption cops sure are amazing when they put their minds to it.

Four hundred and seven million and change in four months. That’s like three million dollars a day, if you average it out. At that rate it should take someone from China’s crack anti-corruption team about five hours to recover the $600,000 that Gao Yuchi, a building contractor from Inner Mongolia, is owed by his local government. Gao, who brought his story to our bureau around the time Chen was going down in Shanghai, built a new office building for the Procuratorate (which is kind of the Chinese equivalent of a District Attorney’s Office) in 1998 in his home town of Molidawoerzu. More than eight years have passed he still hasn’t been paid a cent.

Last week, I wrote about the aggrieved Chinese citizens who come to our office when they’re in Beijing petitioning for intervention from on high. I wrote that many of them seemed mentally unhinged and that only a tiny minority ever received responses to their petitions. Gao, who’s 52, is an exception to both of these rules. When he visited our office a few months ago, he struck me as a reasonable, patient man trying to deal with a ridiculous abuse of local power. He’d employed more than 100 peasant construction workers to build the imposing white-tiled building. He hasn’t been able to pay any of them for their labor, and his business is ruined.

The local government just refuses to pay him. Officials, he says, tell him they just don’t have the cash. Gao finds this explanation particularly unsatisfactory because the Moqi (as the town is known) government had managed to finance the construction of other office buildings as well as some very sumptuous-looking villas. Gao brought pictures to show me.

What really exasperates Gao is that the legitimacy of his claim has been certified by very high levels of the government and it still hasn’t been resolved. When Gao came to our office, he had with him copies of memos from both the Supreme People’s Procuratorate (the national-level body that presides over local procuratorates) and from the Communist Party Standing Committee of Inner Mongolia. Both date from 2005 and both order the Moqi Procuratorate to pay Gao the money it owes him.
But Gao still hasn’t been paid.

He called today to see if I’d written anything about his case. I asked him if he’d seen the news about the recovery of Shanghai’s 407 million.
“Saw it,” he said, “They got every cent back.” And then he laughed.