Love of photography proves Chinese official's undoing

Senior Henan cadre who began taking pictures of nature was convinced by companies his art was worth millions, anti-graft agency warns

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 March, 2015, 1:15am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 March, 2015, 6:51pm

The national anti-graft agency has revealed how companies spent millions of yuan supporting a senior Henan official's love of photography, giving him dozens of cameras and staging overseas exhibitions of his work in return for business contracts.

It's the latest warning from Beijing to cadres about the ways corruption can take root.

Qin Yuhai, former party chief of the provincial people's congress standing committee, came under investigation in September for "serious violations of law and party discipline" - a phrase that usually refers to graft.

While mayor of Jiaozuo, Qin began to take photos of Yuntai Mountain to promote the city's tourism industry. But the hobby became an obsession and he stopped caring about his work or the central government's policies, a commentary on the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection's website said.

"He would go to the mountain to take photos almost every weekend and holiday," a worker at the attraction was quoted as saying. Qin, now 62, was invited to act as honorary chairman of the Henan Photographers Association and sit on the council of the China Photographers Association, which he deemed "recognition of his achievement".

Businesses realised they could take advantage of him through the hobby. "For officials obsessed with photography, if you give him a camera, it is like giving him opium," said the owner of a Beijing imaging company that printed photos for him.

The company spent more than 5.8 million yuan (HK$7.33 million) promoting him in the photography community at home and overseas.

It also published his photos in a book, featured his work in a documentary, and organised exhibitions for him, including in Italy and France.

In return, the company was given an advertising deal to promote the mountain in subway stations in Beijing, Nanjing and Shanghai - a contract that generated 768 million yuan in revenue.

At Qin's request, the tourism company responsible for developing the attraction bought him 24 cameras, worth more than a million yuan in total. It also purchased a photo album of his for 1.6 million yuan and spent 740,000 yuan holding an exhibition. Whenever Qin and his friends visited the area, the company took care of the spending on meals and accommodation.

Officials taking bribes in the form of paintings, calligraphy and antiques have become targets under President Xi Jinping's sweeping anti-graft campaign. The former vice-governor of Anhui province, Ni Fake , known for love of jade, took 13 million yuan in bribes, mostly in the form of the gem.

A former party chief in Liling, Hunan province, used more than 300,000 yuan in government funding for local villages to buy paintings and calligraphy.

Top graft-buster Wang Qishan told a CCDI meeting in January that too many officials were taking positions in painting and calligraphy associations. "Some officials went too far and were carried away. They forgot the relationship between the ruling party and the people," he said.