Forbidden City in new scandal over ticket scam

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 August, 2011, 12:00am


The credibility of the Forbidden City is being further battered amid accusations that it paid hush money to cover up the embezzlement of ticket revenue in 2009, though administrators at the historic Beijing site deny the claim.

Citing several sources inside the Palace Museum, which operates the Forbidden City, Caixin Online reported that some tour guides snuck tourists into the city without purchasing tickets, while the money the tourists paid lined the pockets of the guides and museum guards.

The Caixin report said the ticket income was supposed to be turned over to the Ministry of Finance, but it was impossible to investigate how much ticket income may have been embezzled this way.

The insiders said someone who videotaped the scam tried to blackmail the perpetrators for 200,000 yuan (HK$242,000), but the officials haggled it down to 100,000 yuan and paid the blackmailer using money from the museum's financial department. Only a temporary worker was said to have been punished.

Palace Museum spokesman Chang Lingxing denied the payoff, saying 'the police looked into ticket evasion in 2009, and there was no such hush money paid'. He declined to comment further.

The museum pulled in 590 million yuan in ticket revenue from 12.83 million visitors last year, The Beijing News reported.

Professor Zhu Dake, who specialises in cultural criticism at Shanghai's Tongji University, said the Palace Museum's management style left it open to corruption.

'Ticket evasion and other problems, under the same system, will possibly occur today and in the future,' Zhu said.

Liu Deqian, the deputy director of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Tourism Research Centre, said that media exposure of mismanagement might help to improve transparency and accountability at the museum.

The image of the Unesco World Heritage Site has been tarnished by a string of embarrassments. In May, seven exhibits on loan from a private collection in Hong Kong were allegedly stolen by a jobless man, and police have yet to retrieve some of the items.

A few days later, museum officials admitted that a palace hall had been turned into an exclusive club for the wealthy.