A 31-year-old Chinese entrepreneur who was once one of the nation’s wealthiest women has been spared the death penalty, an official said yesterday, after her case sparked a rare public outcry.
Wu Ying (吳英), a hairdresser who built a business empire from scratch, had her sentence changed to death with a two-year reprieve on Monday, the official said, a penalty that is almost always commuted to life in jail.
“Wu Ying was given a death sentence with a two-year reprieve,” said the official, an employee at the high court in Wu’s home province of Zhejiang in eastern China.
In one of the most widely watched trials in years, Wu was sentenced to death in 2009 for swindling private investors out of about 380 million yuan (US$60 million).
Wu raised money by promising returns as high as 80 percent annually to investors, but then used the funds to repay other debts. She borrowed more than 700 million yuan from 2005 to 2007.
Her case attracted considerable sympathy from the Chinese public, which does not normally oppose the death sentence.
In particular, there was a widespread feeling that because she was a private entrepreneur, the court dealt with her more harshly than if she had been a government official.
Wu built her business out of a modest family beauty salon that branched out into car rentals, clothing and then into real estate and commodities, state press reports have said.
The authoritative Hurun list of China’s wealthiest described her as the sixth-richest Chinese woman in 2006.
In the past three years, her appeal has worked its way through the judicial system and last month the supreme court overturned her death penalty, ordering the Zhejiang High Court to resentence her.
The Zhejiang High Court said after the new sentencing hearing that it opted for leniency, given Wu’s willingness to confess her crimes and provide information that had led to the arrest of several corrupt officials.
According to Amnesty International, every year China executes more criminals than the rest of the world combined.