More than 360 minority investors yesterday filed lawsuits in Beijing and Guangzhou to recover lost investments in disgraced Yorkpoint Science and Technology. It is the first class-action against companies and individuals involved in stock manipulation in China's highly speculative securities markets. The investors were collectively seeking more than 24.6 million yuan (about HK$23.05 million) in damages from six companies and one individual, said Guo Feng, leading a team of eight lawyers from the Zhonglun Law Firm which represents the investors. The case cites four investment consulting firms - Guangdong Xinsheng, Guangdong Baiyuan, Guangdong Zhongbai and Guangdong Jinyi Investment Consultancy - all of which at one point controlled 85 per cent of Yorkpoint's tradeable shares. Earlier this year, the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) disciplined the four consulting firms for tampering with Yorkpoint's share price using 630 retail and institutional accounts. Between them the four pocketed 449 million yuan in profits by manipulating share prices between October 1998 and February this year, the CSRC said. Investors are suing Shenzhen-listed Yorkpoint and its ultimate parent, the Guangdong Yorkpoint Group, as well as the former chairman of both companies, Luo Cheng. He vanished at the end of June, when the companies came under the regulator's microscope. The investors claim Yorkpoint Group lent its financial and material resources to the four for price rigging. Yorkpoint was an accomplice by providing doctored financial information and false company announcements. Investors say Mr Luo and the six companies conspired to rig Yorkpoint's share price, which had soared from eight yuan two years ago to 126.31 yuan in February, and was the mainland's highest-priced stock. In the wake of the probe it has fallen to 17.29 yuan, its close yesterday. The lawsuits are seen as a test case for using the law to protect the interests of the mainland's predominantly retail stock investors. The idea has won top-level support, from the likes of CSRC chief adviser Anthony Neoh and outspoken mainland economist Wu Jinglian. Mr Guo pointed out that all but one of the 363 investors bringing the lawsuits were retail investors. 'The market is shrouded in negative sentiment - one of the reasons being investors don't feel their interests are protected. The cases could serve as a major boost to investor confidence and a huge deterrence to market manipulators,' Mr Guo said. However, the cases would also test the capacity and the will of the domestic judicial system. Mr Guo admitted his biggest hurdle could be the courts, which might not have a sufficient knowledge base to handle such lawsuits and would also be reluctant to open the floodgate to similar cases. Already investors have threatened class-action lawsuits against another rogue firm, Guangxia (Yinchuan) Industry, which admits inflating its financial figures. 'I gather it will take some more time for the judicial system to change its mindset,' Mr Guo said. 'Investor confidence would certainly take a heavy beating if the courts refused to extend their protective umbrella.' The suits were lodged at the Beijing No 1 Intermediary People's Court and the Guangzhou Intermediary People's Court, but officials could not be reached for comment yesterday. They are required to make a decision in seven days to reject or accept the cases, Mr Guo said.