Delegates call for care in tycoon's death row case
At least a dozen delegates at the nation's top legislature have aired concerns publicly in the past week over the death sentence handed down to Zhejiang businesswoman Wu Ying, calling for extra caution from the supreme court in deciding her fate.
Wu, 30, started her own beauty salon at 15 and became the country's sixth-richest women as the founder Bense Holding in Zhejiang. She was arrested in 2007 and sentenced to death in 2009 for illegally raising up to 770 million yuan (HK$942.5 million) through deception.
On January 18, the Zhejiang High People's Court upheld the death sentence, rejecting her lawyers' argument that she was only borrowing money from friends and acquaintances for an overambitious business that ultimately failed.
National People's Congress delegates from Zhejiang were reluctant to criticise the high court's decision but many still spoke out for her, urging the Supreme People's Court to at least reduce the penalty to a suspended death sentence.
'Ultimately, this case must, of course, be ruled on in accordance with the law,' Zhejiang NPC delegate and Furun Holding chief Zhao Linzhong said.
'But with so many people paying attention to it, we hope the supreme court will review Wu's death sentence with extra caution and depth.
'I personally hope ... that when the court reviews the death sentence they can spot a problem, so they can save her life. This way the law is left intact, and we'll feel better, too.'
Wu's death sentence is unusual in that it is overwhelmingly opposed by the mainland public and business community, and not only because people have sympathy for her.
Some say it is wrong for a person to be executed for a non-violent economic crime; others say it's unfair that corrupt officials often receive suspended death sentences while Wu has to die.
But the biggest issue for many businesspeople is that Wu's crime appeared to be the result of a defective financial system, where it is extremely difficult for private enterprises to borrow from state-owned banks. And this, they say, is just one of the challenges facing private enterprise on the mainland.
'If a company borrows from a bank, and fails to pay, there is no way the boss of the company could be sentenced to death,' Li Lixin, CPPCC delegate and deputy chairman of the Ningbo Industrial and Commercial Federation, said.
'It is unreasonable to sentence Wu to death.'
Zhejiang NPC delegate and Nice Group boss Zhuang Qichuan, also said the law had to be improved.
'Otherwise there won't be one Wu Ying, but many, many Wu Yings,' he said, adding that the state-owned banking monopoly should be changed.
Other critics say that even if Wu was guilty under existing law, there are mitigating factors to support a suspended sentence. For example, Wu repaid up to half of the 770 million yuan before she was arrested, and while in jail she gave up names of officials she bribed.
The law, they say, is also unclear, creating a dangerously fine line between private borrowing and illegal fund-raising.
'The case of Wu Ying is the result of ambiguity in our laws; therefore it could be argued either way,' CPPCC delegate and solar magnate Huang Ming said.
'We must first save Wu Ying's life before we can discuss these problems ... Otherwise this is a big blight on our economic development and will make many people uncomfortable.
'And it's not only for the businesspeople, but also ordinary citizens. If it weren't for the hurried arrest of Wu, her business might have been able to repay the so-called debts ... But now her assets have been auctioned off by police at low prices.'
Earlier reports said police seized more than 100 homes, 41 luxury cars and a number of gemstones belonging to Wu. More than 30 of the cars were auctioned for 3.9 million yuan, and a hotel sold for 4.5 million yuan.
Finally, even if she is eligible for immediate execution under the law, other delegates say she should not die because of a system that authorities already recognise as problematic and warrants change.
'The public and business community don't want her to die, because in probably two years' time, after a reform of our financial system, perhaps what she did won't be a crime punishable by death,' Gengxiang tea company boss and Zhejiang NPC delegate Yu Xuewen said.
In February last year, the authorities cut the list of crimes punishable by death for the first time, trimming the total from 68 to 55.
Most of the offences to go were economic and non-violent crimes where the death penalty was rarely used. Illegal fund-raising with intention to defraud was considered for deletion, but it was retained in the final draft.
Zhejiang High People's Court chief Qi Qi said last week that the trend was towards abolishing the death penalty for economic crimes. But he later retracted his statement, saying this was a complicated matter due to crimes such as those involving major corruption and bribery, which are also punishable by death in some cases.