Sun, Oct 01, 2006 - Page 11 News List

Chinese bank head pleads guilty to accepting bribes

AP , BEIJING

The former chairman of one of China's biggest banks pleaded guilty to charges that he took bribes to arrange loans, a news report said yesterday, adding to a string of high-level graft cases at Chinese banks.

Zhang Enzhao (張恩照) resigned 16 months ago as chairman of China Construction Bank Ltd (中國建設銀行), one of China's top four state-owned banks. The bank said he quit for personal reasons, but later disclosed he was suspected of unspecified wrongdoing.

Zhang pleaded guilty Thursday in the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate Court to taking bribes but said the amount was lower than the 4.15 million yuan (US$520,000) cited by prosecutors, the Beijing News reported.

It was the most detailed account yet of the charges against the 60-year-old Zhang.

The report didn't say when Zhang might be sentenced or what penalty he might face. A court employee who would give only his surname, Liu, confirmed that Zhang stood trial on Thursday but said he didn't know how he pleaded or other details.

China's banking industry has been battered by an embarrassing parade of dozens of such cases, usually against managers accused of embezzlement or arranging fraudulent loans.

The scandals come at a time when Chinese banks are trying to raise money from foreign investors to modernize operations, as Beijing prepares to fully open their market to foreign rivals. Much of the wrongdoing has been uncovered as banks undergo audits in preparation for selling shares on Chinese and foreign stock markets.

But the revelations haven't shaken investor enthusiasm for Chinese banks. Construction Bank, the first of the "big four" banks to hold an initial public offering abroad, raised US$9.2 billion last October in Hong Kong in the world's biggest IPO of this year.

A former Construction Bank president, Wang Xuebing (王雪冰), was sentenced in 2003 to 12 years in prison on charges of taking bribes while in a former post as New York City branch manager of another major Chinese bank. That bank, Bank of China Ltd (中國銀行), agreed to pay a US$20 million fine to US and Chinese regulators.

In the biggest reported case to date, a former Bank of China employee was sentenced in April to 12 years in prison for help to embezzle US$485 million from the bank. The employee was extradited from the US in 2004 after Chinese authorities promised he wouldn't face a possible death penalty.

Zhang, the former Construction Bank chairman, faced 19 counts of taking cash and property in exchange for helping people obtain loans from his bank, according to the Beijing News.

Zhang also is accused in a separate case in California of taking a US$1 million bribe in exchange for arranging for a US-based company to obtain contracts.

According to Zhang's lawyer, Gao Zicheng, the real amount of the bribe was 1.5 million yuan, and the rest was a gift from an old friend.

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