Tue, Jul 15, 2003 - Page 1 News List

China sentences former orchid king


China has sentenced a fallen flower baron once listed as the country's second-richest man to 18 years in prison for commercial crimes in a case underscoring the precarious position of China's entrepreneurial elite.

The guilty verdict brought to a close a dramatic reversal of fortune for Yang Bin (楊斌), the orchid-growing Dutch national detained last year just days after North Korea named him head of a free-trade enclave planned on the Chinese border.

It also coincided with a brewing corruption scandal over improper loans in Shanghai that has cast a cloud over the empire of detained property tycoon Zhou Zhengyi (周正毅).

"They sentenced him to 18 years," Yang's lawyer, Tian Wenchang, said after hearing the Shenyang Intermediate Court in the northeastern industrial hub announce the verdict.

"They basically convicted him on all counts," Tian said.

Yang, chairman of Hong Kong-listed Euro-Asia Agricultural (Holdings), who was charged with attempted bribery, fraudulent schemes and contracts, and occupying farmland illegally, remained defiant.

Tian said he had filed an appeal on Yang's behalf.

"He disagreed with the verdict," he said.

The 40-year-old was ranked as China's second richest man by Forbes magazine in 2001 with an estimated fortune of US$900 million.

He became the first of several high-ranking tycoons to run afoul of the law since last year, when the Communist Party invited the new capitalist rich to join their ranks in November.

His trial came as Shanghai authorities investigated Zhou -- the city's richest man -- and the recently recalled head of the Bank of China's Hong Kong arm, Liu Jinbao (劉金寶), in the latest case to ripple through Chinese financial circles.

A string of scandals has broken involving high-profile entrepreneurs who rapidly amassed fortunes in the 1990s, working their political connections in the margins where business interests intertwine with those of government bureaucrats.

Yang's financial empire began to unravel in October, when Shenyang police took the gregarious businessman from his plush headquarters as he was about to lead foreign journalists on a tour of the new Sinuiju economic zone in North Korea.

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