Bribing judges is almost a sure thing
Bribing judges to fix court cases on the mainland is more profitable than drug dealing, according to Huang Shenger from Zhanjiang, in western Guangdong.
Huang's arrest last month coincided with the toppling of nine judges, a court secretary and a bank employee accused of conspiring with him to extort money from debtors. Investigators seized more than 2.23 million yuan (HK$2.66 million) in bribes.
For many, it was amazing that Huang, a high school graduate, could tamper with the city's courts in such a systematic manner.
Huang acted as a 'lawsuit agent' and was commonly referred to by the judges as 'brother'. He set up a property development company in 2000 but never really engaged in the property business. Instead, he made a handsome living off purchasing creditors' rights at a discount.
Huang bought creditors' rights from plaintiffs filing lawsuits over financial disputes who had little prospect of getting their money back. Targeting those with big potential pay-offs and conspiring with judges to make people pay, his approach paid off for years.
He bought his connections with the city's judges, paying for dinners, skilfully losing at mahjong so that they made money, offering gifts and commissions.
As a result, he could expect swift court judgments in his favour and swift action to ensure those judgments were executed.
But taking on Bank of China twice proved to be his undoing.
In November 2001, the Zhanjiang Rongzhan real estate development company, owned by Bank of China's Zhanjiang branch, was involved in a 5.5 million yuan real estate contract dispute with the Zhanjiang No2 Transport Company.
Zhanjiang No2 could not afford to sue Rongzhan and appointed Huang's company to act as an agent to file the lawsuit. Huang agreed to pay for the legal battle in return for 60 per cent of any money won.
In April 2002, the court ordered Rongzhan to pay the money it owed to the transport company.
Huang knew it was a cert from the start, thanks to his connections with the judges and an informant working at the bank.
He paid a 320,000 yuan bribe to Liu Kuan, a deputy judge with the Zhanjiang Intermediate People's Court's judgment execution division, to act favourably in the case. He then paid a 400,000 yuan bribe to informant Lu Keze , who worked as a manager in the Bank of China's Zhanjiang branch. Lu provided critical financial information that enabled Liu to enforce the court judgment by taking 9.5 million yuan from the bank. From that single case, Huang pocketed nearly 6 million yuan.
In a separate case in 2006, Huang gained about 4.5 million yuan after buying the creditor's rights from another firm involved in a financial dispute with Rongzhan and bribing seven court officials.
Bank of China filed a complaint with Zhanjiang's disciplinary committee last year, saying the lawsuits were manipulated by people conspiring to seize state assets. An investigation began immediately. In August, Liu was put under shuanggui, a form of detention imposed exclusively on party officials by the party's anti-graft watchdog.
On the mainland, court judgments are known to be notoriously difficult to execute - with many saying it is the biggest stumbling block to legal reform. The problem is often caused by graft or dereliction of duty by officials.
In Zhanjiang, creditors were forced to cut their losses by selling their rights cheaply to Huang or risk paying for an expensive legal battle, only to end up with nothing.
Despite the busting of Huang and the disgraced judges, there is still a long way to go before the mainland can boast of a legal system with integrity.
His case was just the tip of the iceberg and the authorities need to examine flaws in the legal system and crack down on lawsuit agents across the country to make society fairer and more just.