Chinese media question Bo Xilai's pet project - Dalian's mounted policewomen
Days after a retired policeman publicly called for the abolition of a pet project by disgraced Communist Party leader Bo Xilai, media outlets have focused on the project, raising sharp questions over its finances and its legality.
Last Sunday, the China Youth Daily reported on a call by a retired policeman to end the mounted all-women police guard in Dalian, Liaoning province, because he felt it was a waste of money. The unit was set up by Bo Xilai in 1997 during his time as the city's mayor.
A call from a low-level retired policeman would rarely feature on the national daily's front page, had it not included a reference to the disgraced party leader, who is awaiting trial for still unknown charges in Beijing.
On Thursday, a report by the national business daily China Business News questioned the legality of the police unit's training base - as it offered shows, tours, and horse rides to tourists for a fee.
Video: Dalian's mounted horsewomen
The report estimates the Dalian Public Security Bureau has made 30 million yuan (HK$40 million) of illegal profit with the tourist attraction since it opened in 2001.
In 1999, the Dalian public security department had allocated five million yuan to build the 6,000 square metre site and flown in 100 retired racehorses donated by the Hong Kong Jockey Club, the report said quoting unidentifed sources. The department paid three million yuan annually for its upkeep and salaries, but did not report its income from tourism.
According to legislation to clamp down on corruption in the security forces which had been introduced a year earlier, security forces are barred from engaging in commercial enterprises.
When the training camp was inaugurated in 2001, Bo Xilai had just moved on to becoming acting governor of Liaoning province, after the previous governor Zhang Guogang had been purged of corruption. Bo then advanced to the position of minister of commerce and party chief of Chongqing, before disappearing after the 18th Communist Party Congress last spring.
Over the last 24 hours, more than 11 million people have read the report by China Business News on news portal 163.com, making it by far the most widely-read story of the day on the news portal.
The 65 policewomen in the unit received 1,800 to 3,800 yuan in monthly salaries. The unit spent 2,500 yuan on a horse every month, the Guangming Daily reported.
"On the surface, we see the glamorous mounted policewomen, but in the background there seems to be shady insider plot," wrote the Nanjing Daily. "This will certainly be regretted."
The people of Dalian should be asked whether they want to keep their all-female horse guards, Xiao Guoji, a columnist with the Beijing News. wrote on Friday. "The people should know how much money has been spent on the mounted policewomen, and what they actually did," he wrote.
Most readers of the People's Daily Online said they wanted the mounted police force disbanded, because it wasted government funds, according to a poll on the Communist Party mouthpiece's website.