A village deputy head has been suspended from his office and is being investigated for allegedly owning more than 80 properties and 20 cars, valued at over 2 billion yuan (HK$2.47 billion), a district-level government spokesman in Shenzhen said yesterday.
The investigation began after an open letter was posted in several mainland chat rooms accusing Zhou Weisi, a senior official in Nanlian village, located in the outskirts of Shenzhen's Longgang district, of corruption and of owning a vast amount of personal assets that don't match his income.
The allegations, first appearing on Sunday morning, come amid widespread incidents in recent months of exposed corruption among grass-roots cadres.
Zhou's aides declined to be interviewed. Official Guangdong media reported that some of the named properties were owned by Zhou, but at least two others were owned by someone else.
Land has become a major source of wealth for local cadres in the affluent southern province, as it is highly sought after by property developers and factories. Last month, a political commissar with the urban management bureau of Guangzhou's Panyu district was placed under investigation after internet users found that he owned 22 properties valued at more than 35.5 million yuan.
Meanwhile, a party boss in Zhongtang village, Dongguan, has been placed under investigation after angry internet users revealed that he owned a luxurious villa in a 7,000-square-metre compound.
Zhuang Deshui, an anti-corruption researcher with the Institute of Political Development and Governance at Peking University, said corruption is common among grass-roots party bosses, due to the concentration of power in those areas.
"People often say a county party chief is just as powerful in his own country as the Chinese president.
"These local despots have extensive decision-making power in terms of the village, township or county's land resources, business permission and infrastructure," he said.
The letter against Zhou, purportedly written by some villagers, alleges that he illegally sold or occupied land owned by the village, colluded with real estate developers and illegally built homes for profit, as well as offered bribes to higher-level authorities.
Longgang authorities said an investigation team, including asset management officials, were sent on Monday to probe the allegations.
Southern Metropolis Daily reported yesterday that Zhou told the paper he didn't own 80 properties, and he said the allegations were part of a personal attack by some villagers who have disputes with real estate developers over city development projects.
He was quoted in a story yesterday by Nanfang Daily as saying that the properties he does own were purchased with business profits before he was appointed as a village official.
"I welcome a probe by the party's anti-graft investigators; I am not afraid," he told Southern Metropolis Daily.