Residents say they were lured into a burial-plot scheme that was later halted More than 1,000 angry protesters surrounded Beijing's City Hall yesterday, accusing the vice-mayor of luring them to invest in a burial-plot scheme that left them with huge losses. The protesters, most of whom were elderly residents, invested in sites in Sanhe county in neighbouring Hebei province during the late 1990s. The scheme had been publicised in state media as an excellent investment opportunity and the current vice-mayor of Beijing, Sun Anmin, was a main promoter of the project. A total of 125,000 gravesites were sold, with investors tempted by promises of high profits. Mr Sun, who was chairman of the Beijing Municipal Chamber of Commerce at the time, said Sanhe would be a favoured area for residents to place the ashes of their deceased. Eager investors poured more than 600 million yuan (HK$564 million) into the investment scheme. But after promoting the project for more than four years, the municipal government in Beijing did an abrupt about-turn in 2001 and declared the investment scheme illegal. Many investors had bought several sites with the idea of selling them for profit, but prices plummeted once the restriction was announced. The sites had been mostly sold through outlets set up in luxury hotels in Beijing. One of the protesters said Mr Sun had been a key promoter of the project. 'I was at one sales promotion where he presented two salesmen with brand new cars for selling the most sites,' he said. The crowd yesterday shouted that they had lost all their money and demanded a meeting with Mr Sun to air their grievances. 'Sun Anmin, come out!' they chanted in a rare act of public defiance as more that 100 policemen and public security bureau officials looked on. The vice-mayor did not appear but the protesters have vowed to return today and tomorrow for follow-up demonstrations. Mr Sun's niece is married to Zhou Yilong, the majority shareholder of the gravesite project. Mr Zhou's brother, Yichen, was general manager of the gravesite project at the time and has since become a deputy to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. 'We have lost all our money from this, but the family made a fortune. Sun got promoted to vice-mayor and Zhou Yilong was also appointed to a high office,' one of the protesters said. 'We want justice. We believe that top-ranking officials have supported them in this.' Another protester said: 'Many have been ruined. I know some who have committed suicide as a result. 'Others have had to sell their homes.'