A national audit of public institutions has caused a storm in the mainland media, prompting widespread coverage of investigations. Some reports make the auditors sound more like secret agents, with accounts of clandestine meetings with sources and threats of physical harm. When Auditor-General Li Jinhua presented the National People's Congress with his assessment of a range of government bodies and state-owned enterprises, two weeks ago, he listed a range of financial irregularities. Yesterday, in a new website column called Xinhua Views, Xinhua published articles describing difficulties the audit team said it faced during its investigation. Assessors examining the finances of the Bank of Communications' branch in Jinzhou in Liaoning province were confronted by several formidable challenges. They were threatened and a number of informants were stabbed by unknown attackers, the Xinhua report said. Bank officials also lied to the auditors and hid documents, it claimed. The news agency said information was handed over on street corners and at a remote hotel at night to protect the auditors' sources. 'It was just like a movie plot. But it happened in the real world,' the assessor said. The auditors eventually concluded the branch had conspired with local courts, and had fabricated documents to write off 221 million yuan in corporate non-performing loans made to 175 entities between 2000 and 2003. Internet chat rooms on Xinhua, People's Daily and the Sina.com and Sohu.com websites, were abuzz with the scandal. One contributor said deep-rooted corruption and the weakness of the country's supervision system had been exposed. 'If auditing offices at all levels in the country further tighten control, more problems are certain to be discovered,' the writer said. 'We must punish them severely.'