Xinhua News Agency

Corrupt tobacco boss made bureau a family business

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 February, 2011, 12:00am

It's a classic case study in corruption: one man, with two identities, in charge of a government bureau employing more than 20 relatives that spent up to two million yuan (HK$2.36 million) a month on entertainment.

What's more, the first of two official investigations failed to find any problems.

Revelations about the spendthrift lifestyle of Chen Wenzhu, former head of the Tobacco Bureau in Shanwei, eastern Guangdong, have got the blood of mainland internet users boiling.

The details of Chen's case began to be unveiled online in August, with juicy evidence posted on the mainland's most popular internet forums.

The tobacco industry is a state-owned monopoly, with the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration and the China National Tobacco Corporation managing production, distribution, sales and marketing. Shanwei's Tobacco Bureau is directly under the Guangdong provincial Tobacco Monopoly Bureau.

Mainland media, including Xinhua, have since dubbed Chen 'the most amazing tobacco official'.

Over the past two months, Xinhua has published numerous lengthy feature articles taking aim at Chen. They were based on evidence posted online that was verified by its own investigation. State media said Chen had arranged for more than 20 of his relatives to hold key posts overseeing finance, distribution, warehouse management and monitoring in Shanwei's Tobacco Bureau.

Xinhua said Chen was the third director of the bureau since its establishment and that its founding director, Cai Xiuren, was his uncle. It said at least 22 other bureau employees were relatives of Chen, including his cousins, sisters and brothers-in-law.

It also said Chen illegally held two identities, the other one being a Shenzhen resident named Chen Tao. He had two identity cards and two passports bearing different names and different household registration details.

From October 2004 to January 2007, just using his real identity, Chen visited Hong Kong and Macau 69 times.

It was also reported that his office ran up monthly entertainment expenses of 2.06 million yuan in March last year, and 1.96 million yuan in April.

The bureau held more than 400 large receptions last year, with expenses hitting more than 12 million yuan. One of the Xinhua reports detailed Chen's favourite dining spots, including VIP rooms in luxury seafood restaurants and a bird's nest restaurant.

It said that reception expenses at the bureau canteen could run to 130,000 yuan a day - quite a feat given that a standard meal cost just five yuan, and raising questions about where the money actually went.

Xinhua also listed examples from the bureau's accounts: 60,000 yuan spent on alcohol on January 25 followed by another 74,000 yuan on January 29; 38,000 yuan on local products and tea on September 8; and 15,000 yuan on snacks and bread on April 6.

What's even more intriguing is that Chen remained in the position for months after an official investigation was launched following online revelations about his corrupt activities.

In November, four months after the initial internet tip-off, the provincial Tobacco Monopoly Bureau released an investigation report to the Shanwei city government's propaganda department. It concluded that 'initial investigation finds the accusations basically groundless'.

That did not stop Chen's story from featuring widely in media reports and internet forums, becoming a hot topic with newspaper columnists and critical bloggers last month.

The provincial tobacco bureau finally bowed to public pressure and on January 17 announced on its website that Chen had been suspended from his position two days earlier for illegally holding two different ID cards and two residence registrations. Senior provincial tobacco bureau official Lin Jianhua said its investigators had confirmed claims by internet users and the media that Chen had travelled abroad extensively without the permission of higher authorities.

With further investigation pending, the public still has a few questions: how could someone like Chen remain in power for months after provincial authorities launched an investigation; how come the first inquiry found no wrongdoing; and who was Chen's protector in the tobacco monopoly system?

These are questions that need urgent answers. The Tobacco Monopoly Bureau in Guangdong certainly has a lot of explaining to do after the contradictory findings of its investigations in November and last month.

The corruption, abuse of power and wasting of money at Shanwei's Tobacco Bureau reached a level that's hard to believe. But for years, higher authorities chose to turn a blind eye to Chen's shocking entertainment expenses, illegal identities and extensive travel aboard.

If the media and internet users had not revealed evidence of Chen's corruption and put pressure on higher authorities, he would still be in power and abusing the system, as many others doubtless still are.

Expenses claim

The tobacco bureau spent 12 million yuan in a year on receptions, with monthly entertainment bills as high as: 2m yuan