Drug snorting adds insult to injury in latest graft case

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 October, 2011, 12:00am


Hardly a day goes by on the mainland without reports of high-ranking officials being investigated or jailed for corruption. While the mainland leadership hails every conviction of officials as further signs of its unswerving determination to root out corruption, most mainlanders have become largely indifferent to such reports and barely raise an eyebrow, as corruption is becoming more rampant, blatant and systemic, with the amount of bribes getting bigger and bigger.

But from time to time, the increasingly brazen and lawless nature of some cases still gets mainlanders' blood boiling, as they thought they had seen it all.

The latest example involves Yang Hongwei, former governor of Chuxiong, one of the so-called autonomous prefectures in western Yunnan where the ethnic Yi minority has lived for centuries. The prefecture is well known for its natural beauty, with rugged mountains and gorges.

Now it has achieved notoriety nationwide after Yang's arrest. He was found regularly snorting drugs, while running the city of 2.5 million people, setting another dubious milestone in the history of official corruption on the mainland.

Yang, 48, of the Yi ethnic minority, was detained in April and formally arrested in August. Since late last month, some state media reports started to release juicy details of his incredible corruption trail. On top of snorting drugs, his rap sheet also shows that he allegedly took bribes, including 10 million yuan (HK$12.12 million), US$138,000, HK$30,000 and A$30,000 in cash, as well as goods worth more than 950,000 yuan, when he was governor from 2006 to this year.

As is typical of corrupt officials these days, he and his wife also own 17 properties in Kunming and two other cities in Yunnan, as well as six in Melbourne, Australia. For some cynical observers, this is further anecdotal evidence as to why local officials are reluctant to comply with central government directives to tame the overheating property market and bring down prices.

And, as is the case with many corrupt officials, quite a lot of sex was involved. The reports said Yang was alleged to have maintained 'improper' relationships with several dozen women, with their romps often in the mayor's office and official dormitory. Not to be left out, Yang's wife also reportedly switched lovers regularly, and investigators even found a fake marriage certificate of her and another man in a safe at one of their homes, the reports said. The media reports suggested that Yang's wife was implicated in his alleged corruption activities, but did not say whether she was arrested.

Sharing yet another trait of high-ranking officials jailed for corruption, Yang (pictured) started as a rising political star known for his ambition, endless energy, hard work and ability to get the job done. This explains why he became the city's mayor at the fairly young age of 43. After he became the principal official for the city in 1996, his greed for power and lust started to show, which was exemplified by his motto 'nothing is impossible'.

He appeared to solicit most of his bribes from the illicit developments, as he was found to have illegally approved 130 land deals in collusion with developers in exchange for kickbacks. Some of his petty projects bordered on hilarity. In 2008, he signed a framework agreement with a developer on a project that aimed to replicate presidential and royal palaces around the world, in an area of 50 square kilometres, with the goal of inviting those foreign presidents and royals to stay.

That year, he also announced another project to develop vineyards, along with some Australian investors, without properly studying the soil and weather conditions. The city invested more than 10 million yuan, but none of the vineyards produced any wine, forcing the city to spend two million yuan to import wine.

He openly snorted a popular drug known locally as kaku, which is made from opium and can be rolled like tobacco leaves to smoke in water pipes. He was known to snort the drug for more than a year, sometimes with one of his deputies, who was also arrested. According to one senior official, Yang was at a municipal conference and a police officer noticed that he was smoking the drug, rather than simply tobacco.

It looks certain that Yang will face the death penalty, not because of the amount of the bribes but because of his drug problem, which is rare among the mainland's corrupt officials.

While the media reports focused on the juicy details, they have missed one important issue: how could Yang manage to hold on to his job as mayor for five years, until April of this year, while the investigation suggested that Yang's exploits of partying with women and drugs, and of mismanagement, were known as early as 2008?