Once the mainland's second-richest man, he is convicted of bribery, fraud The fall from grace of the mainland's second-richest man was complete yesterday, when a court jailed Yang Bin for 18 years and fined him and two of his companies a combined eight million yuan for crimes including bribery and fraud. Nine months after the orchid farmer and property developer with a reputed US$900 million fortune was picked by North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to head a special economic zone, associates said he had so little money left he could not even pay the fine, equivalent to HK$7.5 million. The Shenyang Intermediate Court imposed the maximum sentence on Yang, a Dutch national, after finding him guilty of bribery, raising capital on false pretences, illegal use of farmland, financial fraud and use of false financial statements. The punishment is far harsher than Yang and his supporters had expected. 'Yang feels it is a very heavy blow,' one of his associates said. 'He is very depressed. He had expected a sentence of no more than 10 years.' Prosecutors had reportedly offered Yang a deal under which he would be given an 18-year sentence but serve only two years in a mainland jail before being expelled to the Netherlands. But Yang believed the sentence was too severe and would tarnish his reputation, so he rejected the deal. Yang's lawyers were not available for comment yesterday. Yang, 40, owes hundreds of millions of yuan in loans to banks, employees and a construction company from Nantong, Jiangsu province. Much of the debt was rung up in connection with his massive Holland Village development in Shenyang in China's northeast. If Yang were able to sell it as a going concern, he would be able to pay all his bills. But work has stopped on the project since his detention and power supplies have been switched off and it stands all but abandoned. Yang's associates said they were particularly upset over his conviction on the charge of illegal use of land in connection with Holland Village. 'This project received hundreds of millions of yuan in loans from state banks and was supported by the city, provincial and central governments,'' said one of his friends. 'National leaders went there. How can a judge turn around after 10 years and say it was illegal?' After the hearing, Yang was driven back to the detention centre in Benxi, south of Shenyang, where he is being held. Yang is chairman of Euro-Asia Agricultural Holdings, which listed in Hong Kong in 2001. Trading in the company's shares has been suspended since last September on suspicion of false accounting. Yang was detained last October and formally charged in November. His fall from grace was as dramatic as his rise to prominence. In 2001, the United States-based Forbes magazine ranked Yang as the second-richest man in China, with assets of US$900 million. Last September, North Korea appointed him chief executive of a special administrative region in Siniuju, over the Tumen river from the Chinese city of Dandong. But the regime of President Kim Jong-il appeared not have informed the Chinese government of the appointment, and days later, Yang was taken into custody. Yang's friends say he lives in comfortable conditions at the detention centre in Benxi, receiving visitors and smoking five packets a day of 555 brand cigarettes.