Death sentence that left entrepreneurs in shock

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 April, 2012, 12:00am


The mainland's shadow banking system may have made many people rich, but it also has a dark side.

Billionaire Wu Ying, 30, was sentenced to death in 2009 for illegally raising funds with the intention to defraud - a verdict that has shocked thousands of entrepreneurs in eastern Zhejiang province, as they have used underground loans to grow their businesses.

In January, the Zhejiang Higher People's Court upheld the death sentence, but the mainland's highest court overturned the controversial sentence last week.

On Friday, the Supreme People's Court said it declined to approve the sentence and referred the case back to the high court in Zhejiang, adding its decision was based on the consideration that Wu was honest in her confessions, including the fact that she had bribed several civil servants.

Wu was convicted of illegal fund-raising with the intention of cheating the depositors out of 770 million yuan (HK$943 million), half of which she has since repaid.

Her lawyer argued that the money was borrowed from friends and she had no intention to cheat them. Wu offered 'depositors' annual interest rates as high as 80 per cent to support her firm Bense Holding Group, or lent the money to other borrowers at even loftier rates.

Indeed, many business people were keen to lend money to Wu due to the high interest rates. The case is also worrying entrepreneurs who have been using the shadow banking system.

Wu saw a ray of hope last month when Premier Wen Jiabao said Beijing would 'adhere to the principle of seeking truth from facts' after he was asked to comment on the case.

The State Council's decision to legalise underground banks at the end of last month heightened expectations that Wu's sentence would be overturned, otherwise it would contradict Beijing's move to legalise the shadow banking system.

'If Wu were to be executed, the message would be confusing,' said a venture capitalist who is active in financing privately-owned businesses on the mainland.

'The government has officially acknowledged the positive role of private loans and it has to rethink the punishment it levies on Wu.'

It is suspected that Wu was given the death sentence because of lobbying from officials whose money was involved in the funds that Wu had raised from a group of 'middlemen'.

Further investigations into Wu's funding sources would expose cases of corruption, says a businessman who did not lend money to Wu.