Answers needed in China files scandal

  • Investigation by high-level task force into how documents went missing from court in mine ownership case will be watched carefully by business interests at home and abroad
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 January, 2019, 9:38pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 January, 2019, 10:30pm

The Supreme People’s Court is no stranger to the reach of mainland corruption investigators, with two vice-presidents having been jailed for life in 2010 and 2017. But the latest probe, by a top-level task force led by the Communist Party’s Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, is unprecedented. Its membership also includes anti-corruption officials, police and prosecutors. What further sets it apart is that its findings will be watched carefully by business and investment interests at home and abroad for signs that the party is serious about upholding their legal rights and interests.

The task force will look into a case involving a long-running dispute over ownership of a mine in Shaanxi province. The court eventually ruled in 2017 in favour of a private businessmen and ordered a state-owned exploration concern, which had asserted ownership, to pay him 13.7 million yuan (HK$15.9 million) in compensation. Meanwhile, documents relating to the case disappeared from the judge’s office, delaying implementation of the judgment to this day. During an internal inquiry, the court maintained there was nothing amiss until the scandal was leaked by social media, sparking heated online debate about how documents could have vanished within the high-security court compound.

China’s supreme court forced to admit it lost documents in long-running contract dispute

The question deserves a full, frank and transparent answer, for the sake of confidence in the fairness and impartiality of the country’s highest court. The unexplained disappearance of an important file or documents is often instrumental in injustice or perversion of the course of justice.

The escalation of the scandal into a disciplinary operation by the task force is of compelling interest to legal and corporate observers, not least because President Xi Jinping has repeatedly pledged to protect the rights of private business. This case is an example of double standards and also raises the issue of corruption in the judicial system. It is a reminder that to provide real reassurance to investors and businesspeople, Beijing needs to do far more work on its legal system. The kind of legal protection and assurance extended to the business community is a big issue for the country’s economy and its orderly growth in the next stage of national development.