Tycoon's death sentence under attack on internet
The upholding of a death sentence against legendary 29-year-old Zhejiang businesswoman Wu Ying for fraud has sparked an uproar online, with many questioning if the penalty is proportional to Wu's crime.
The decision announced on Wednesday afternoon by the Zhejiang High Court has also sparked intense debate, over issues like whether the entrepreneur was treated fairly in comparison to corrupt officials, the difficulties of mainland private companies in obtaining funds due to government policies, and whether it is reasonable to retain the death penalty for economic crimes.
The sentence awaits a final review by the Supreme People's Court.
Wu's dramatic life journey has been in the media spotlight since she became a millionaire at the age of 25. She started off working at her aunt's beauty salon in Dongyang city, and eventually established the giant Bense Holding Group.
However, the fairy tale ended in February 2007 when she was arrested. The court sentenced Wu to death for fraud, saying that she illegally collected up to 770 million yuan (HK$947 million) from the public using high interest rates and deception.
The decision immediately drew sympathy from many in the public, as they believed Wu was only a victim of current government policies, which make it very difficult for private companies to borrow from banks. The possibility of criminal charges for collecting funds from the public makes raising funds through private channels risky. Wu admitted to illegally collecting funds, but said it was only business gone bad, and denied intention to defraud.
Her lawyers and the online community have another question: Authorities have pledged to reduce the use of the death penalty, especially for economic crimes, and many corrupt officials have been given suspended death sentences in recent years - so why must Wu die?
Also, Wu co-operated and gave the names up of other guilty parties - including government officials - while in jail. Many posts asked if local officials want Wu to die for fear she might implicate others.
'Killing Wu won't stop the operations of underground banks,' said Professor Hu Xingdou of Beijing University of Technology, who has a blog on current events.
'According to the current definition of illegal fund-raising, all money-lending from investors could be illegal, if done without the approval of the authorities. This charge only gives the authorities the right to monopolise China's finance and banking system, but does little to help small and medium-sized enterprises to raise money for their business.'
'There will only be more Wus.'
Microblog user Han Zhiguo gave the example of former Bank of China official Yu Zhendong, who with his accomplices swindled more than US$80 million and illegally used 132 million yuan in public funds. He was only sentenced to 12 years.
Wu Ying's ranking among China's richest women in 2006, when she was worth 3.6 billion yuan according to the China Daily