Tuesday, April 20, 2021

China’s richest judge indicted for fraud, bribery

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A Chinese judge known as the richest in the country has been charged with fraud, taking bribes and abusing her powers after it was revealed that a gambling habit lay behind her £200 million fortune.

Zhang Jiahui, 55, a former vice-president of the high people’s court in Hainan province, was indicted after video footage surfaced of her playing mahjong for money.

Mahjong gambling, though common, is strictly banned in China. The news that a judge had been involved provoked a wave of public anger and demands for an investigation. It highlighted the prevalence of government corruption in China, where courts are not immune to the problem, and cast doubt on the legal system.

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Ms Zhang was said to have started her bet at £25 per hand with no upper limit. Winnings from one hand could be as much as £2,500, raising suspicions of Ms Zhang’s integrity. Mahjong gambling is often used to disguise bribes when the briber loses on purpose.

Ms Zhang’s husband, also a former government official, owned or controlled at least 35 companies, some of which were held by relatives and friends. He has been indicted in a separate case on charges of faking the company seal and bringing fake litigation.

State media reported that the couple had persuaded relatives to bring legal proceedings and pursue economic interests through court rulings. “It’s likely that the two used their deep legal background and deft judiciary skills, possibly their rich resources within the legal system, to quickly accumulate wealth,” the China Business Journal reported. In one case, Liu Yuansheng, Ms Zhang’s husband, used litigation to seize a golf course project for a bargain price, although it was unclear what role Ms Zhang had played.

Investigators said the judge had abused her powers as she “used the convenience of her position to seek benefits for others”.

“She took bribes that were particularly huge,” the prosecuting office said, adding that she had “ordered and directed others to make wrong rulings by going against the fact”. Investigations have shown that Ms Zhang intervened in legal proceedings and used her position to seek benefits for others in exchange for huge bribes. The local supervision commission called her “a hypocrite who has low morals”.

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The commission said Ms Zhang had failed to report family wealth as required and did not disclose her 2017 divorce, a possible ploy by which she could disown assets held in Mr Liu’s name. State media said the couple were thought to be living together after their divorce.

Investigators said they had examined 1,300 sets of documents and 156,000 pages of statements, and spoken to more than 1,200 people, before they concluded that Ms Zhang had violated Communist party discipline and national law.

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