Two years ago, Yorkpoint Science & Technology (Yorkpoint S&T) was as infamous as China Venture Capital, after both Shenzhen-listed companies were plucked from relative obscurity and catapulted to fleeting stardom by a group of stock manipulators. But the low-profile sentencing of the conspirators who rigged Yorkpoint S&T shares contrasted sharply with the media frenzy that accompanied last year's China Venture trial. Analysts were divided on whether this inconsistency reflects shifting regulatory and market priorities, or if it simply serves as another reminder of regulatory inconsistency in China. On Thursday, a Guangzhou court sentenced Li Hongqing to 31/2 years in prison. Li had been vice-president and chief financial officer of Yorkpoint S&T's ultimate controlling shareholder, Guangdong Yorkpoint Group. Li, four other Yorkpoint Group executives and a connected company were convicted of participating in an elaborate scheme that used more than 3.7 billion yuan (HK$3.46 billion) to manipulate the share price of the listed firm, whose businesses ranged from electronics to property rentals. Controlling 80 per cent of the company's shares in their heyday, the manipulators sent Yorkpoint S&T shares soaring from 8.34 yuan in 1998 to its peak of 126.31 yuan in February 2000 - making it the highest priced stock on the mainland and allowing Yorkpoint Group to reap more than 460 million yuan in illegal gains. Yorkpoint's rise and fall was remarkably similar to that of Shenzhen-based China Venture, a chicken-breeder turned high-technology play. In June last year, seven individuals stood trial in the mainland's first stock manipulation case for helping to amass 5.4 billion yuan in two years, and using 1,565 fictitious stock trading accounts to rig China Venture's share price. In April, a Beijing court sentenced the seven to up to four years in prison. The China Venture trial, concluded with the two masterminds at large, has been widely dismissed as a show trial to placate widespread public criticism of the China Securities Regulatory Commission's (CSRC) inability to rein in rampant stock market fraud. 'You have a show trial so you can point to this and say 'we are cracking down on this, we are cracking down on that',' a western analyst said. 'The danger is that as soon as you start pulling on one string, you don't necessarily know what else is going to move.' The China Venture case implicated more than 120 brokerage outlets nationwide and could have tainted more than a few of the country's big corporate names. Likewise, Yorkpoint's manipulators used more than 700 stock accounts at 54 brokerage outlets. The public and regulator have since lost their appetite for fraud busts. 'The market focus is no longer there,' Xiangcai Securities trader Tang Yong said. 'People are more concerned about when the market will bottom out.' The CSRC crackdown on market fraud is frequently blamed for a more than 30 per cent fall in mainland share prices since June 2001. 'The regulator might be hoping someone would manipulate share prices now,' said one analyst. On a more positive note, China Southern Securities analyst Wang Yiguo said the CSRC might have realised that ex post facto regulation could not address the root of the mainland's stock-market ailments, and had instead shifted its focus to the more fundamental task of raising the quality of listed companies. The CSRC has introduced a slew of new rules to improve listed companies' independence from major shareholders, beefing up corporate governance and tying further fund-raising to financial performance.