You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Chinese judge probed over alleged $3 billion family fortune

Inkstone logo Inkstone 6 days ago Qin Chen
a group of people in a room © Handout

A provincial judge whose family reportedly controls a business empire worth $3 billion is being investigated by Chinese authorities in a case that has angered the nation.

Zhang Jiahui, a deputy judge in the southern island province of Hainan, and her family were said to control 35 companies spanning industries from real estate to hotel management, the Chinese news website Knews reported on May 11.

Reports of the Zhang family's alleged fortune prompted anger online in a nation struggling to rein in corrupt officials who use the power of their office to amass wealth.

"How can we transform to a market economy if our legislative power is in the hands of Zhang and her ilk?" a user commented on China's Twitter-like Weibo.

"There are fewer than 100 families in my village, but the village head has made enough money to buy property in multiple cities. I read these reports every day, but it won't change a thing," read another comment.

In the past three months alone, nine high-level government officials have been prosecuted for taking bribes and abusing their power, including an executive of state-owned China Development Bank and senior judicial officials.

On Tuesday, Communist Party officials in Hainan said they had opened a probe into Zhang and her family, forming a joint investigation group with the province's anti-corruption agency, prosecutors and the police department.

As of May 15, they have not been publicly accused of any crime. The investigators did not immediately reply to Inkstone's request for comment.

Zhang came under scrutiny after her husband, Liu Yuansheng, head of a real estate development company, reported being extorted by a business associate.

In a court hearing on April 30, the business associate, Yi Zhenwu, said Liu owed him about $230,000 in a hotel construction contract, website Red Star News reported.

To force Liu to pay up, Yi said he secretly recorded videos of Zhang gambling with her colleagues on mahjong, a popular Chinese tile-based game, and audio of Liu boasting how he manipulated the stock market and gamed government subsidies.

Liu told the court he paid Yi $44,000 in July 2017 because he was afraid that the release of the recordings would hurt his and his wife's reputation.

In late 2017, Liu's company agreed to pay Yi around $115,000 and signed an agreement to settle their dispute.

But Yi went to Liu again in early 2018 demanding to renegotiate the payment. Fearing that Yi would keep extorting him "endlessly," Liu reported the case to the police in May.

Yi denied that he extorted Liu, telling the court that he only sought to get what he was owed.

The trial is continuing at a court in the Wanzhou district of the southwestern city of Chongqing.

In a statement released on May 11, Liu's attorney, Wang Wanqiong, criticized what she said were "defamatory" media reports about the family, without denying any specific allegations.

Wang declined to make further comment on this case when reached by Inkstone.

This story originally appeared on Inkstone, a daily multimedia digest of China-focused news and features. 

Copyright (c) 2019. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

More from Inkstone

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon