Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

New Symbol of Corruption for Chinese: Real Estate ; Citizens Voice Outrage as Officials Are Accused of Buying Scores of Homes

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

New Symbol of Corruption for Chinese: Real Estate ; Citizens Voice Outrage as Officials Are Accused of Buying Scores of Homes

Article excerpt

Those with government and business ties have been found buying up scores of private properties, sometimes with the help of fake documents, drawing the ire of average Chinese citizens.

In China, where corruption vies with the cost of housing at the top of the list of popular grievances, Gong Ai'ai was never going to win a warm hearing.

After weeks of uproar, the Chinese police said on Tuesday that two days earlier they had detained Ms. Gong -- invariably called "House Sister" in the torrent of local media reports about her -- on suspicion of forging official documents and seals. The charges stem from accusations in those reports that she and her family of amassed dozens of houses and other properties using shady wealth, as well as illegally obtained or faked identity papers to thwart detection.

Ms. Gong and her collection of properties have struck what are many Chinese citizens' rawest political nerves -- ire about graft and brazen self-enrichment by officials and their confederates, and frustration at the high cost of homes in cities where it seems the rich and powerful have invested in housing that often sits empty, observers said.

"House Sister is a microcosm of China's problems," said Li Xinde, a freelance journalist who runs a Web site devoted to exposing official corruption.

"Many ordinary people simply can't afford to buy a single home, but House Sister suddenly accumulated one after another," Mr. Li said. "It's a classic case that shows the crazy extent of the intertwining of money and power in China."

A former vice president of the Shenmu Rural Commercial Bank in the northwestern province of Shaanxi, Ms. Gong accumulated 41 residential and commercial properties in Beijing alone, the police said. They said Ms. Gong bought at least 10 of the properties by using an illegally obtained national identity card and Beijing residence registration, apparently to try to evade detection and skirt limits on nonresidents buying housing in Beijing.

That total does not count two properties that newspaper reports said she held in the northwestern city of Xi'an, and two in her home county, Shenmu.

Before being taken into custody on Sunday, Ms. Gong disappeared from public view for about two weeks, and posters on the Internet accused the police of failing to pursue her. In an interview last month, she said the money for the property came from legitimate family investments. The police statement issued by state media said that Ms. Gong submitted her resignation from the bank in June but the bank board formally approved it on Jan. 2.

The country's top leader, Xi Jinping, has repeatedly vowed to stamp out graft and greed by officials since he was appointed head of the Communist Party in November. In a speech on Jan. 22, he vowed to strike both "tigers and flies" -- misbehaving senior officials as well as lowly corrupt officials. …

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