Billionaire spared the death sentence after outcry for mercy

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 April, 2012, 12:00am


A 30-year-old billionaire was spared the death penalty yesterday after the mainland's highest court ruled on a case that attracted an unprecedented outcry for mercy including sympathetic comments from Premier Wen Jiabao.

Wu Ying (pictured), once one of the richest women in China, was sentenced to death in 2009 on charges of raising funds with the intention to defraud. She has been unable to pay back debtors 380 million yuan (HK$466 million).

The Supreme People's Court said yesterday it declined to approve the sentence and referred the case back to the High Court in Zhejiang province, based on considerations that Wu was honest in her confessions, including the fact that she bribed several civil servants.

'On an overall assessment of the case, the death sentence may be stayed,' the court document stated.

But it added she would still face punishment as 'the amount of money Wu Ying raised with the intention to defraud was large, causing significant losses for her victims, and violating the country's financial system'.

It is unclear what the new sentence might be. Lawyers and legal scholars said this meant the court had ruled in Wu's favour, and the lower court would not be able to reapply the death sentence.

There has been much debate on whether court decisions should be influenced by mass opinion, and what the implication would be if Wu were to receive a more lenient sentence.

The controversy surrounding Wu's case comes at a time when Beijing is trying to reform the financial system and legalise underground banking through a pilot programme in Wenzhou , where many cash-strapped private business owners have resorted to private fund-raising to overcome liquidity shortages.

'Wu Ying's case is not just a criminal case. It provides indications on China's attitude towards the development of the private economy,' said Li Shuguang, a professor at the China University of Politics and Law, adding that the results showed a 'respect for the voice of the people'.

Zhang Gu, a law professor at Zhejiang University, said the more important question was whether specific laws that were outdated should still be applied. 'If we hold on to a law that has already been discarded by the people, then the law will lose its effectiveness,' said Zhang.

At the end of the NPC session last month, Premier Wen said Wu's case would be handled 'based on facts, and carefully'.