Shantou Mayor Li Chunhong has confirmed that central government investigators have been in the eastern Guangdong port city for the second time in as many years. Last month, the Hong Kong-based pro-Beijing Wen Wei Po reported that about 100 investigators - comprising Taskforce 815, named after its August 15 founding date - had been sent to Shantou to investigate money laundering, crime syndicates and smuggling. According to the report, the taskforce was pursuing leads turned up by Hong Kong's Independent Commission Against Corruption in an investigation into cross-border money laundering. 'There is a taskforce here, but I do not know if they are investigating money laundering,' Mr Li said. 'I'm not sure how many people are on the taskforce. As a local government our role is simply to co-operate with them. If they need us to do something, we do it.' According to Mr Li, Taskforce 815 - which he did not refer to by name - arrived in the special economic zone in September. 'I think that they may be investigating a smuggling ring,' he said. In March, the Guangzhou-based Southern Metropolis News reported how smuggling, money laundering and value-added tax (VAT) rebate fraud in eastern Guangdong were inter-related. According to the newspaper, smugglers exchanged their illicit yuan earnings for hard currency on the black market. The hard currency was in turn laundered through Hong Kong banks and then remitted back to China as export earnings. As an added bonus, these export earnings could then be presented to the central Government in return for VAT rebates. In August last year, 300 members of another central government investigative team - known as Taskforce 807 - descended on Shantou in an effort to eradicate widespread VAT-rebate fraud. Their investigation into the fraud led to the arrest of the mayors and party secretaries in nearby Chaoyang and Puning, and also to the demotion of then Shantou party secretary Zhuang Lixiang. So far, 19 people have been sentenced to death in connection with the VAT-rebate scandal in and around Shantou. A further 30 people have landed life jail terms, and scores more have been arrested. With only 18 of Shantou's 77 VAT-rebate fraud cases concluded, confirmed losses to the central Government stand at 4.2 billion yuan (HK$3.9 billion). An articulate mayor saddled with the huge task of cleaning up Shantou and reviving its foundering economy, Mr Li fielded a range of sensitive questions with a degree of candour remarkable among mainland officials. But even he could not hide his frustration at the negative press Shantou routinely receives. 'I hope you will not pay too much attention to this case,' Mr Li said when asked about Taskforce 815. 'It's just one case and even I don't know much about the details. There's no point in discussing what everybody already knows. It's an old story and has no news value. 'I think it is irresponsible for journalists to care only about circulation and sensational stories. Of course it is good to disclose these problems. But the press should not just report this repeatedly.'