The death penalty for 30-year-old Zhejiang billionaire Wu Ying was upheld yesterday in a retrial, but suspended for two years - a decision hailed by some legal experts but slammed by Wu's father, who maintained she was innocent.
Under Chinese law, the suspended death penalty means that Wu's sentence will be commuted to life imprisonment if she behaves during the next two years. All of her personal assets will be seized.
Her father, Wu Yongzheng, called the ruling 'unacceptable', adding: 'This decision is too unjust. How can anyone trust the law again?'
He said he hired a lawyer for the retrial, but the court wouldn't allow that lawyer to meet Wu Ying, claiming that she had already appointed a local lawyer. He also opposed the retrial being heard by the original judges at the Zhejiang People's High Court who in January upheld her 2009 death sentence. 'I'll continue seek justice for Wu,' he said.
Once one of China's richest businesswomen, as the founder of Bense Holding, Wu Ying received unprecedented nationwide support from people calling for mercy, after she was sentenced to death in 2009 on the charge of raising funds with intent to defraud in the amount of 770 million yuan (HK$941 million).
The support was the result of a number of reasons - one of which is that the nation's entrepreneurs face many difficulties securing funding under the current banking system, pushing them into the grey area of private borrowing.
On January 18, the Zhejiang People's High Court upheld Wu's death sentence, rejecting her lawyers' argument that she was simply borrowing money from friends and acquaintances for an over-ambitious business that ultimately failed. During the National People's Congress in March, many delegates from around the country spoke on Wu's behalf.
On April 20, in a procedure put in place in 2007 for reviewing such sentences, the Supreme People's Court declined to approve the death sentence with immediate execution based on considerations that Wu was honest in her confessions, and that she gave details of her bribery of several civil servants.
The High Court in Zhejiang reiterated the SPC's reasoning, saying that, upon the retrial and taking into consideration her confession, and how it led to the convictions of three civil servants, she should be spared immediate execution.
A separate question-and-answer report by the court's spokesman, providing replies to several queries, said it was Wu Ying's decision to dismiss her Beijing lawyers after the Supreme People's Court ordered the retrial. It also said that Wu Ying decided to be represented by a local lawyer, and that it was legal for the original judges to hear the retrial.
The spokesman also defended the court's handling of Wu's assets, which attracted immense criticism online.
Commercial law professor Li Shuguang, of the Chinese University of Political Science and Law, said it was definitely an improvement that Wu Ying was spared immediate execution through the retrial.
'This is a decision in line with changing economic trends and public opinion,' Li said. 'Of course, it would be even better if this economic crime was no longer punishable by death under law.'