February 15, 2010 2:00 am

Huang charged with bribery

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Huang Guangyu, founder of China's largest electronics retail chain and once the country's richest man, has been indicted on charges of bribery, illegal business dealings and insider trading, state media said at the weekend.

The Beijing No 2 procuratorate had charged Mr Huang on Friday, said the state-run China News Service. Xinhua, the official news agency, also carried reports of the indictment on its website on Sunday.

The reported charges confirm concerns that Mr Huang could face much harsher treatment than initially expected. The case is being closely watched as a benchmark for the legal position of private entrepreneurs in China.

Mr Huang was detained in late 2008 on what was initially identified as suspicions of share manipulation.

But over the past year, several officials - including a former deputy minister of public security and a former deputy Shanghai police chief - have been unseated as investigators accused them of corruption in relation to Mr Huang's case.

On Christmas Eve last year, prosecutors said they had found evidence against Mr Huang for an involvement in "new crimes". This announcement allowed them to extend his detention. Since then, Chinese media have speculated that an indictment on broader charges was imminent.

The formal indictment moves the case closer to a trial at a time when China's private entrepreneurs are under increasing political pressure. A recent opinion poll conducted by People's Daily, the ruling Communist party's mouthpiece, said a majority of respondents viewed individuals or families who gained wealth over the past decades of economic reform as "corrupt". Only 16 per cent of respondents thought their wealth was a result of wisdom or hard work. Most believed it was due to links with officials, the poll said.

Mr Huang has already spent more than 14 months in jail awaiting formal charges - ending what was one of China's most spectacular rags-to-riches stories. Born the son of a poor farmer in Guangdong, Mr Huang started, with his brother, selling batteries and radios bought from factories in the manufacturing base of Beijing. From these humble beginnings, he built up Gome, a company that is now China's leading electronics retailer.

In 2008, Mr Huang topped the Hurun list of the richest people in China with an estimated net worth of $6.3bn. But in early 2009, Mr Huang and a number of other executives resigned from their posts and have since lost control of the company.

The procuratorate and Mr Huang's lawyer could not be reached for comment.

www.ft.com/china

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