Tycoon's jail death sparks outcry

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 August, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 August, 2004, 12:00am

One of Chongqing's best- known businessmen has died in controversial circumstances while serving a 10-year prison sentence.

The death of Wu Daiyou, 51, on Wednesday has left his family bitter and angry, and has raised questions about the treatment of leaders of the private sector.

Wu, the chief executive of Chongqing Huiyou Industrial Company, was formerly a member of the city's Municipal People's Congress and a vice-chairman of the city's Industrial and Commercial Association, which represents the private sector.

Wu was one of the first generation of mainland millionaires. Like many of them, he was poorly educated - a graduate of primary school - and started life trading on the street, as a fishmonger.

Going into business at a time when most people regarded it as politically too dangerous, Wu's Huiyou company became one of the 50 biggest private firms in Chongqing. At its peak, the company had assets of one billion yuan including a lakeside resort near the city centre. It had interests in real estate, trade, construction and porcelain materials and soft-drink production.

Wu's death has raised questions about how the prison system treated a prominent entrepreneur and about how he was unable to access the money needed to keep his company afloat. He was sentenced to 10 years and fined 350,000 yuan, after illegally raising 66 million yuan from the public with the offer of high interest rates.

'Such borrowing was widespread in Chongqing at that time and the government turned a blind eye,' said one Chongqing businessman who knew Wu. 'Then the government suddenly changed its policy.'

Wu was pronounced dead at 4.50am on Wednesday by a hospital in Changshou, Chongqing, of complications arising from pulmonary tuberculosis. The prison had sent him there at 10.30pm.

His family is enraged by his treatment and said they were informed of his critical condition too late. When they reached the hospital, they found the crematorium van at the door about to remove his body, but succeeded in preventing it from leaving.

On Thursday afternoon, following a court order, five specialists conducted a two-hour examination of Wu's internal organs. They will announce their judgment in a month. They found no evidence of external wounds.

The family is also suspicious about the way he was treated in the prison and why it did not transfer him immediately to hospital after the TB diagnosis on July 27. They ask why he was left for two hours in an ambulance before being admitted to the hospital and why he was not put in intensive care.

Wu's business failure was a result of an over-rapid expansion and a fall-off in visitors to his resort. In prison, he was in charge of managing the institution's library.