In what could have been the plot of a prime-time crime drama, a television show aired on CCTV on Tuesday night detailed a daring criminal sting in which five men tried to pass themselves off as secret military intelligence officers in order to rescue their jailed, crooked colleague.
CCTV, the state broadcaster, reported that the incident, which was captured on closed-circuit television, occurred in the eastern province of Shandong. The con artists are thought to be part of a sophisticated crime ring, uncovered by a nationwide investigation, which is suspected of defrauding more than 6.5 million yuan (HK$8.3 million).
At 10am on November 5, five men in military uniforms descended from two expensive cars without licence plates and entered the a local police station in Cangshan, a county in Shandong Province.
Each of the men was dressed in full military attire, including shoulder insignia denoting various ranks, and carried official-looking identity certificates. They claimed to be from a secret agency affiliated with the Central Guard Bureau, an elite military unit in charge of protecting the Communist Party leadership.
The men said they were charged to deliver a secret order and demanded to see the police chief immediately. They insisted no one else in the office could be party to the details.
But their plan began to unravel when the officer on duty informed them that the bureau chief was not in and would not return until the afternoon. The on-duty officer asked them to wait in a reception room, but the men rapidly grew impatient and tried to leave the office.
Suspicious, the on-duty officer raised an alarm, and within an hour received orders to detain the men, who were believed to be members of a sophisticated crime ring whose members posed as military officers and had scammed millions from individuals and businesses across the country.
According to police investigators, the ring is led by a man named Zhou Changsheng, and began operating in 2010. Zhou, who is based in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, calls himself the commander-in-chief of the secret agency. He also goes by the codename “Leopard”.
The five men in Cangshan were trying to rescue their colleague-in-crime, a man named Xu Yongqi, who had previously been arrested for impersonating an officer in July this year.
Police have also discovered a full-fledged fake officer training centre that the ring operated in Wuzhou, Guangxi Province. The facility, located in a private compound within a public park, is a carbon copy of legitimate military training facilities, from full fake uniforms to legitimate-looking dorm beddings.
According to the television programme there have been several cases of people impersonating military officers in recent years.
In 2010, a man was discovered claiming to be a major general in the Central Military Committee. In two years he had amassed more than 3 million yuan by coaxing people into paying him for imaginary political favours and government contracts.