Chief of top sports newspaper detained

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 May, 2009, 12:00am

The editor-in-chief of China's most popular sports weekly has been detained by Communist Party disciplinary authorities in Hunan .

Sources said the move could be connected to bribery charges levelled against two former senior sports officials in the province and an attempt to privatise state assets.

Qu Youyuan , 44 - chief editor and part owner of the Titan Media Group, which publishes Titan Sports, All Sports, Soccer Weekly and other popular sports publications - was taken from his Beijing office on April 17.

A deputy editor was also taken away, sources said.

'Qu and his deputy, who was in charge of accounting, were taken away the same day,' a source familiar with the matter said, adding that the company 'has not explained to employees why Mr Qu and the deputy were taken away'.

Mr Qu is one of the most prominent figures in the mainland's sports media, and Titan Sports, published thrice weekly, reportedly accounts for more than half the total circulation of mainland sports publications.

Mainland media regulations generally prohibit a media outlet from being run by a private company, but the sports media group was registered under the Hunan Sports Bureau as a 'third-industry' - services - company, making it acceptable.

Sources said Mr Qu's case had at least something to do with the criminal investigation of former sports- authority officials Fu Guoliang and Huang Ying, both arrested for corruption late last year.

Huang is accused of taking bribes of 1.08 million yuan (HK$1.23 million) and HK$30,000 since 2001.

Fu was charged with awarding sports construction projects to companies through Huang, and taking kickbacks.

Sources who know Mr Qu well said he was close to both officials, especially because Titan Sports was registered under the authority.

'I'd say they more than just know each other. They are friends,' one source said.

Another reason for the investigation of Mr Qu could involve distributing nominal state assets to private owners, an issue that has been a topic of conversation among many Titan Sports employees.

The Titan Media Group is partly owned by South Africa-based Media 24, and Mr Qu and many veteran employees owned different-sized stakes through a redistribution of assets he directed.

Mr Qu has worked for Titan Sports ever since its founding in 1988 in Changsha , Hunan's capital, and has almost single-handedly moulded the newspaper into a market leader.

Titan Sports reached its peak in 2002, when the men's national soccer team made it to the World Cup finals, with circulation exceeding 1.5 million copies a day.

Circulation has been declining in recent years, at least in part because of increased competition and the popularity of news websites, but the paper still maintains a circulation of about 500,000.

Mr Qu's absence has not disrupted the normal operation of the group's publications, but it has added uncertainty to the sports media group.

'It's like we've suddenly lost our direction. We don't know where we're heading any more,' a senior reporter with the group said.