Son-in-law defends China's 'orphan saviour' over property ownership

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 February, 2013, 11:50am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 February, 2013, 12:55pm

The son-in-law of China’s controversial “orphan saviour”, Yuan Lihai, denied allegations on Tuesday made by a recent magazine report that said Yuan owned at least 20 properties.

“I am willing to disclose our assets,” he said. “I am willing to disclose the colour of my underpants if that’s what it takes.”

Guo Haiyang, the son-in-law, said he had found a lawyer and planned to sue the magazine for libel.

Guo, who said all the Yuan family wanted was to return to a peaceful life, published a 2,000-word statement on China’s Twitter-like service Sina Weibo on Tuesday, firing back at the magazine allegations that had raised eyebrows and shaken Yuan’s supporters across the country. 

Yuan became the focus of media attention after her unlicensed orphanage in Lankao, Henan province, caught fire in January and seven children died. Some hailed her as a hero amid what they called inadequate support services for children in China. Yuan later pledged to stop adopting abandoned children after being accused by critics that she had taken in children to turn a profit. 

"China's orphan saviour devastated by deadly fire", Video by Wu Nan

The report published by a Beijing-based, less-known  ViP Weekly magazine  this week contended that contrary to what Yuan had said about her economic hardships, she was a powerful and wealthy businesswoman who owned at least 20 properties in Lankao.

Among its numerous allegations, the report said Yuan had invested 450,000 yuan  (HK$560,000) in an illegal building which had just been dismantled by local government. Guo later denied Yuan had invested any money. 

Scrutinising Yuan’s child care, the report said she had discriminated disabled children against healthier ones, leaving them with inadequate care and even neglecting them.

Fighting back at the allegations one by one, Guo listed all the properties Yuan owned. He said that instead of the 20 properties the magazine had reported, Yuan owned only four flats. She had acquired some of these properties from a land seizure compensation scheme, self-purchase and donations.

The total area of Yuan’s four apartments adds up to 360 sq m, said Guo.

Guo also defended how Yuan handled her orphans. She gave the healthier children away because nobody wanted to adopt disabled children, he said.

The son-in-law acknowledged that Yuan had earned some money working as a mediator and saleswoman for businesses and developers. But she did it only to make a living, he said, as the business "partners" cashed in on her local "celebrity" status.

"She has to find a way to feed the children," Guo said. "She can't just wait for donations at home all day."

The magazine report sparked heated debate online. Some said it balanced out previous reports that seemed overwhelmingly in Yuan's favour. But many readers remained sceptcal because many sources in the story were unnamed, and some allegations appeared to come from rumours.