Source of beautician's assets still a mystery

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 February, 2007, 12:00am

Wu Ying has come a long way since working as a beautician in her home city of Dongyang in Zhejiang province .

Ms Wu was born in a Dongyang village in 1981 to a construction sub-contractor father and a farmer mother. She has three sisters, according to media reports.

In 1997, at 16, she registered to enter a local technical school. Eighteen months later, she dropped out and studied to become a beautician under her aunt. Later, she opened a beauty parlour in the city, but left soon after.

Various rumours have circulated as to what she did next. One version has it that Ms Wu met a Southeast Asian warlord and received a small fortune for helping him smuggle goods and launder money. Ms Wu has denied the rumours, insisting she has been in Guangzhou and Zhejiang over the past few years, making her fortune from several legitimate businesses.

Her husband, Zhou Hongbo, has said most of the start-up money came from futures investments since 2003.

Last year, Ms Wu returned to her home town and raised eyebrows by setting up 15 companies and branches with an investment of nearly 300 million yuan, Dongyang Industry and Commerce Administration statistics show.

Her presence is everywhere in the downtown area. Her laundries offered two months' free service, leading to complaints from competitors. She offered free TV sets to customers who paid 11,000 yuan for her household fabrics, which led to a lawsuit being filed by one customer who said she had not honoured the deal.

She reportedly signed contracts to buy 700 booths in a shopping centre last year. But she later claimed she had not bought that many and the local government only wanted her presence at a contract signing ceremony to boost the local property market.

Recent rumours suggest the group's cash flow has been slowing. Ms Wu said her employees were not paid because she had been on a business trip. More than 10 million yuan in loans from the local branch of the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, which was covered by her assets, has been repaid.

On January 24, Ms Wu called a press conference in Hangzhou to clarify the nature of her assets. Two weeks later, she was detained by local police.