Life sentence for ATM withdrawal cut to five years

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 April, 2008, 12:00am

The life sentence of a migrant worker who exploited an ATM error to withdraw 175,000 yuan (HK$194,505) was commuted to five years by a Guangzhou court yesterday.

Xu Ting, 25, was also ordered to pay a 20,000 yuan fine and return all the illicit money.

After handing down the revised sentence, Gan Zhengpei, the presiding judge of Guangzhou Intermediate People's Court, said media and public opinion were taken into consideration during the verdict deliberations.

'Mr Xu was convicted of larceny in both trials. But we have adopted a different assessment for the penalty because Xu caused less social damage in the case and his criminal offence was accidentally triggered by an ATM malfunction, which can't be copied by others,' Ms Gan said.

She said the offence was not premeditated and Xu did not engage in any criminal acts to destroy the cash machine. 'That's why we applied to the Supreme People's Court for a lighter sentence.'

Xu told judge Zheng Yuchen that he would not appeal against the sentence, but his lawyers said they would study the verdict before taking any further legal action.

Xu Cailiang, Xu's father who flew to Guangzhou from Shanxi for the retrial, said he would spend the rest of his life campaigning for an impartial hearing because his son was innocent.

Xu withdrew the money from the Guangzhou Commercial Bank ATM in April 2006, when he realised that it had deducted only 1 yuan from his account for every 1,000 yuan he withdrew. He fled after taking out the cash in 171 transactions and telling a friend about the machine's error. The friend, who withdrew 18,000 yuan, was sentenced to one year in jail.

Xu was granted a retrial in December after the life sentence imposed at his first trial sparked heated public and media debate.

China Central Television's legal news programme said the huge difference between two sentences would have a large impact.

'We don't know the boundaries of the courts' legal interpretation powers,' the programme said.

The court said yesterday that withdrawing 174,000 yuan in the 171 transactions after the first one was regarded as stealing from a financial institution.

Liu Baiju, a law professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the new decision failed to deal with issues like whether Xu's exploitation of a fault amounted to theft and whether an ATM could be considered a financial institution.

But despite differences over the sentencing, legal experts generally agreed that the Supreme People's Court decision was correct.

Nankai University law professor Hou Xinyi said although the courts rarely made applications to the supreme court, it was justified because of so much public outcry.

'Any judgment should consider the legality and social impact,' Professor Hou said.