Illegal fines paid for prosecutor's lavish offices

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 December, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 December, 2000, 12:00am

The state prosecutor's office in a poor county in north China raised money to build a lavish office and apartment building by arresting people and forcing them to pay illegal fines, state television reported.

The Focus Talk programme said Kedong county in Heilongjiang was one of the poorest in China, but the facilities used by the prosecutor were of a standard that his official budget could not cover.

It raised the extra money by arresting business people and detaining them, for up to eight months, until they and their family bought their release. Under China's constitution, a prosecutor has the right to detain people but not impose fines.

One of the unlucky victims was businessman Li Zhongcheng, who applied in 1997 for a licence to trade coal.

He was arrested for no reason and his family ordered to pay tens of thousands of yuan for his freedom.

They refused and he was held for eight months.

He was finally released after they paid both cash and goods, which included three pairs of shoes.

Another victim was Xu Bin, a driver at the county's oil company, who was helping friends to build a petrol station. He was detained on the pretext of tax evasion and held for several months until his family also paid tens of thousands of yuan.

Jiang Hongzhi, a local farmer, applied to a credit co-operative for a loan and was also detained for no reason.

Individuals were not the only victims. Firms that made money, like oil companies, bank branches and grain bureaus, were also subjected to 'fines' of up to 300,000 yuan (HK$279,000) by the prosecutor.

The report quoted minutes of a meeting of the prosecutor's office as showing that the target for such fines this year had been set at two million yuan. An unnamed member of the office was recorded saying: 'In Kedong county, the prosecutor dictates who has power and even the political bureau of its office has the power to impose fines.'

Heilongjiang, bordering Russia, is one of the most corrupt provinces in the country. Its bad reputation has resulted in little foreign or private investment and an economy dominated by state firms. It has one of the highest rates of urban unemployment in China.