Fallen tycoon appeals against death sentence
Daniel Ren in Shanghai
Wu Ying - once one of the mainland's richest people and sentenced to death in 2009 in a high-profile fraud case - has appealed to a Zhejiang court against the ruling.
Zhang Yanfeng, Wu's defence lawyer, said he was hopeful that Wu would get a lighter punishment.
'The judge has carried out a thorough investigation into the businesses run by Wu Ying, which could prove that my client didn't spend the money from the depositors,' Zhang told the South China Morning Post.
'The investigation, I think, holds the key to the upcoming verdict.'
Wu, 30, was convicted of fraudulent fund-raising and taking 770 million yuan (HK$913.91 million) from depositors in a money-lending scheme that promised high returns.
Zhang said his client, listed as the mainland's sixth-richest person in the 2006 Hurun Report, pleaded guilty to a lesser charge on Thursday during the appeal hearing.
Under Criminal Law, the maximum sentence for anyone convicted of illegal fund-raising involving fraud is the death penalty.
The lawyer said Wu used the depositors' money to replenish her business, Bense Holding Group.
'There's a big difference - she doesn't deserve a death sentence since she didn't deceive anyone for their money.'
On the mainland, only banks and licensed financial institutions such as rural co-operatives are allowed to take deposits from public investors and businesses. Individuals and companies are barred from collecting deposits and extending loans.
But 'underground banks' have sprung up in affluent provinces such as Zhejiang and Guangdong in the past decades as private entrepreneurs tried to raise capital for their small businesses, according to Li Youhuan, a professor at the Guangdong Academy of Social Sciences. 'The underground banks have a long history but the country has to work out a clear legal framework stipulating which practices should be cracked down on,' he said.
The state-owned National Business Daily said about 600 billion yuan of cash flowed through Zhejiang's 'underground banking' system.
In Zhejiang, a group of private entrepreneurs and affiliates - including their relatives, neighbours and friends - deposit money with a so-called chief operator of a capital pool, who grants high-interest loans.
The local city- and county-level governments in Zhejiang normally turn a blind eye to these 'underground banks' because these illegal operations power small businesses and benefit the local economy.
Several private entrepreneurs in the province said Wu became a 'chief operator' after her success gave her credibility in business circles.
Some say the death sentence may be the result of Wu's aggressive tactics, as high-ranking officials might have seen her as a threat to the state-controlled banking sector.
Zhang said the appeal verdict would take some time.
Liu Ping, deputy director of the central bank's research bureau, said in 2008 that Beijing was studying a policy to allow private businesses and individuals to take deposits and lend to other businesses - but no timetable was given.
Wu Ying, 30, was convicted in 2009 of fraudulent fund-raising and taking this much, in yuan, from depositors: 770m yuan