Cadres suspected of trying to offload luxury properties ahead of crackdown

Surge in sales of luxury apartments precedes party’s announcement of anti-graft campaign

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 January, 2013, 9:04am

Some cadres may have caught a whiff of the new party leadership's anti-corruption campaign even before the Communist Party's top anti-graft watchdog announced on Wednesday that it would conduct spot checks on senior officials' asset declarations.

In Beijing, second-hand residential property transactions increased by 360 per cent in the first half of this month, compared with the same period last year, according to the city's housing-management commission.

Amid market speculation about whether the country's new leadership may loosen its grip on the property market after formally taking their state positions in March, some property agents have suggested that the recent crackdown on corrupt officials may be contributing to a rise in home sales.

"More government cadres have been willing to sell their apartments in the past two months, and they want the deal completed as quickly as possible," said a property manager in the capital's southern Daxing district, declining to be named.

He said that one of his clients, a district-level cadre, recently asked for his help in selling six of her apartments in one residential compound.

The Beijing-based Economic Observer, citing an anonymous source close to the Central Commission of Disciplinary Inspection (CCDI), reported this week that the anti-graft watchdog had reported to the central authorities that, since mid-November, there has been an "unprecedented" number of luxury-apartment fire sales in dozens of cities, with many properties suspected of being owned by officials.

The report also said that the number of such transactions was even higher in Guangzhou and Shanghai. A CCDI spokesman refused to comment on the report, the newspaper said.

Ren Jianming, deputy head of the Chinese chapter of a global coalition against corruption called Transparency International, who was involved in forming the country's latest five-year anti-corruption plan, said some officials are seriously concerned as the tracing of property ownership could be a boon to the crackdown on corruption.

"Recent calls from the top to crack down on corruption, along with the plan to create a national-level housing-information system, have scared corrupt officials, and they feel that if they don't sell now, their properties might get them in trouble," Ren said.

The Economic Observer report said the housing ministry has been working on a national database of home ownership. The database was meant to provide better information for deciding housing policies, but it has also drawn the attention of anti-graft officials as a tool to weed out corrupt cadres.

Real estate, as one of the few practical investment choices for many mainlanders, is often also a major choice for corrupt officials to hide illegal income.

A senior urban-management official from Guangdong, now known as "Uncle House", was sacked in October after investigators found that he and his family had acquired 22 homes on a meagre family income.

Just a few weeks before, a 22-year-old woman from central Henan province earned the nickname "Sister House" after 31 homes were found to be under her family's name. Her father, a local urban-management official, was removed from his post.

Ren, who also teaches at Beihang University in Beijing, said recent efforts by officials showed the party was determined to fight corruption while not fatally undermining its own credibility.