Why China is so determined to get Ching Mo Yeung – and why he’s so desperate to stay in Canada
The Hebei corruption scandal that brought down Ching’s father saw one man executed and another jailed for life
It’s been more than a week now since the South China Morning Post revealed that Chinese corruption fugitive Cheng Muyang has been living a prosperous (and, it turns out, politically active) life as Vancouver businessman Michael Ching Mo Yeung.
Canadian media have mainly depicted Ching as an alleged white-collar criminal, but this does not do justice to Beijing’s interest in him. In China, Cheng Muyang is better known as the long-sought son of the late Hebei governor and provincial Communist Party chief Cheng Weigao – a major figure in the extensive annals of Chinese political corruption.
Cheng Weigao himself was never actually convicted of anything, though he was expelled from the party in 2003 and branded “degenerate” by state media at the time.
“He allegedly used his influence to enable his wife and children to engage in illegal activities, accept valuable gifts as bribes, and connive with his two secretaries to commit crimes,” the People’s Daily said in 2003.
It’s important here to note that the South China Morning Post has no proof of Michael Ching Mo Yeung’s guilt or innocence. But it is also important to note the unproven Chinese stance on Ching’s father to understand why such apparent importance has been attached to the pursuit of his son, now a Vancouver property developer who stands accused of graft and illegally transferring assets. Michael Ching Mo Yeung has been a permanent resident of Canada since 1996; he is currently battling for refugee status to avoid deportation to China, having long been denied Canadian citizenship.
“No matter where the corrupts [sic] flee, the Chinese side will bring them to justice. Absconders like Cheng Muyang are bound to receive due punishment,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei last week. The fact that China’s dour Foreign Ministry would devote an official response to the identification of Ching as Cheng in a daily briefing is significant – again, it speaks not to Ching’s guilt or innocence, but to the official attitude in Beijing.
The fate of those who surrounded Cheng Weigao during his tenure in Hebei - where he was governor from 1991-1993, then party secretary from 1993-1998 - makes for rather grim reading. Their crimes mainly centre on bribery and kickback schemes involving housing and construction in the northern province.
On November 13, 2003, Cheng Weigao’s former secretary Li Zhen was executed for graft and embezzlement. A central figure in the scandal, Li had been convicted of taking bribes worth 8.14 million yuan and embezzling cash and property worth 2.7 million yuan. In addition, he was convicted of collaborating in the embezzlement of a further 48 million yuan.
It was supposedly the biggest Chinese state corruption case in value at the time.
Li’s predecessor as Cheng’s secretary, Wu Qingwu, was also handed a death sentence, albeit suspended after two years to life imprisonment; according to the well-regarded Chinese magazine Lifeweek, when Wu wanted to leave Cheng’s office to enter the private sector, Li promised that he would favour Wu’s interests once he assumed Wu’s job. Li, who went on to head Hebei’s tax office, would later strike the same deal with his own successor, Lifeweek reported.
Dozens of other officials, senior and junior, were convicted of various roles in the Hebei scandal and were handed hefty sentences. The deputy chief of the provincial construction committee, Li Shanlin, was sentenced to 14 years; the former mayor of Shijiazhuang, Zhang Erchen, was jailed for 10 years.
Cheng Weigao’s daughter, Cheng Youlan, was meanwhile jailed in 2004 for three years and fined 7 million yuan for evading taxes worth 1.77 million at the advertising firm where she was president and CFO. It’s this case which now forms the basis of part of the Chinese case against her brother, Michael Ching Mo Yeung, who was allegedly the manager of the advertising firm and supposedly party to the scheme to falsify company documents. He has failed to respond to multiple requests for an interview, although his lawyer issued a statement over the weekend denying all wrongdoing.
It’s clear from all of this that Michael Ching Mo Yeung is unlikely to be regarded by Beijing like any other mere suspect in a middling white-collar crime. And it’s not surprising that he is fighting tooth and nail to stay in Canada.
As for Cheng Weigao, Chinese investigators finally decided in 2006 not to charge the elderly former cadre - a reported ally of former president Jiang Zemin. At the time, “we have not found Cheng Weigao should shoulder criminal responsibilities,” said Gan Yisheng, secretary-general of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the powerful party organisation now hunting his son. But “we ... punished him in accordance with our party and political disciplines” added Gan. Cheng died in ignominy in 2010, at the age of 77.
The Hongcouver blog is devoted to the hybrid culture of its namesake cities: Hong Kong and Vancouver. All story ideas and comments are welcome. Connect with me by email firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @ianjamesyoung70.