Corruption in China

A peek into a toppled Chinese official’s US$62 million worth of ill-gotten gains

A painting of the Hong Kong skyline, a jade bracelet and almost 50 branded watches were among former Tianjin police chief Wu Changshun’s collection of illegal gains

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 31 May, 2017, 9:31am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 May, 2017, 10:31pm

A painting of Hong Kong’s skyline by one of China’s best-known contemporary artists, a green jade bracelet with a price tag of 1.6 million yuan (HK$1.8 million) and at least 45 expensive watches, including five Patek Philippe timepieces, were among a toppled Chinese official’s lavish collection of ill-gotten gains revealed by Chinese media.

Worth a combined 426 million yuan, the property, artworks, jewellery and cash once illegally possessed by former Tianjin police chief Wu Changshun, makes Wu one of the fattest “tigers” netted in China’s anti-corruption campaign under President Xi Jinping. An angry Xi has described Wu as “defying all laws human and divine”, according to Chinese state media.

Following his dismissal from office in 2014 and a subsequent investigation, a Chinese court sentenced Wu to death with a two-year reprieve - a sentence that usually turns to life imprisonment when the two years expire. Wu’s illegal gains, including more than 1,000 pieces of artwork, antiques and jewellery, were auctioned off over the two previous years, according to a report by mainland news outlet Caixin, which obtained the booklets for the auctions. So abundant was Wu’s collection, that a Tianjin auction house was able to hold three auctions for the sale of items, between November 2015 and last December, according to the report.

Tianjin police chief detained by CCDI for alleged corruption

Among paintings and works of calligraphy confiscated from Wu is In Memory of Hong Kong, painted in 1991 by Wu Guanzhong, a founder of modern Chinese painting who died in 2010. The painting, which depicts the skyline of Hong Kong’s central business district at Victoria Harbour, was not yet appraised in the auction booklet and so had no floor price. But in 2008, it sold for 2.6 million yuan at a public sale held by Poly Auction, according to the auction house’s records.

Other famous works Wu owned included a calligraphy piece by Zhang Daqian, one of China’s best-known – and best-selling – 20th-century artists. A painting by Zhang named A Copy of Juran’s Landscape reeled in the highest bid at China Guardian’s autumn auction last year, fetching 103.5 million yuan.

Wu owned 11 paintings by Fan Zeng, a master of traditional Chinese painting and another big-selling name at art auctions. One Fan piece from Wu’s collection commanded a floor auction price of 3.5 million yuan, according to Caixin.

The Tianjin property empire ‘that politics built’

The auction items also included hundreds of antiques, including a blue and white 15th-century porcelain container made in the Ming dynasty, as well as Buddha statues and green jade bracelets and ornaments.

Wu also owned at least 45 luxury watches, including brands such as Cartier, Rolex, Vacheron Constantin and Patek Philippe. Among the high-priced timepieces was a Poetic Complications Collection Lady Arpels Pont des Amoureux watch from French jeweler Van Cleef & Arpels, with a floor price of more than 386,000 yuan, Caijing reported.