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China court jails four anti-graft activists for protests
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) April 18, 2014

Chinese entertaining crackdown hits Remy Martin brandy: firm
Paris (AFP) April 17, 2014 - A clampdown in China on extravagant entertaining in a drive against corruption is cutting deeply into sales of brandy, French drinks group Remy Cointreau reported on Thursday, warning of a profit slump.

The company, which owns several brands of spirits, said that group sales slumped by 13.5 percent in the 12 months to the end of March mainly because its Remy Martin brandy had lost favour in China.

The brandy brand accounts for about half of the group's business, and this is the latest sign of the effect of the campaign by Chinese authorities to bear down on extravagant entertaining and gift-giving.

Shares in the company fell by 4.07 percent to 60.41 euros in morning trading.

"Remy Martin was adversely affected throughout the financial year by the Chinese government's anti-extravagance policy, which had a negative impact on the consumption of premium spirits," the company said in a statement.

The sales fall also reflected the company's decision to reduce the level of stocks in its Chinese distribution chain.

Sales of Remy Martin brandy had fallen by 23.4 percent to 551.2 million euros ($763.7 million) in the year.

Group sales fell to 1.031 billion euros.

A number of big players in the luxury products business have reported being affected to some extent by a change in purchasing patterns in China, notably Swiss makers of expensive watches which were popular as gifts.

Remy Cointreau warned that the sales fall was likely to have a big negative effect on its underlying profits for the year to March.

The family-controlled company said it was sticking to its forecast that that current operating profit would show a significant two-digit fall, signalling that this could amount to 35-40 percent and would increase net debt.

Meanwhile sales of Remy Martin rose strongly in the United States, Russia, Japan and Africa.

Overall sales of the group's other brands also edged up.

At Bank of America Merrill Lynch, stocks analysts commented that they expected sales of cognac brandy in China to recover only modestly because the government there was stepping up its measures against ostentatious spending.

The company could counter that trend only partly with sales elsewhere.

Brokers Bryan Garnier said that Chinese policy "continues to weigh heavily on sales of cognac.

A Chinese court on Friday sentenced four anti-corruption protestors to between two and three-and-a-half years in jail over their role in small-scale demonstrations, furthering a crackdown on rights activists.

The four were associated with the New Citizens Movement, a loose network whose members held peaceful protests in Beijing last year, carrying banners calling for officials to disclose their assets as a measure against graft.

They were sentenced for "gathering a crowd to disturb public order", Beijing's Haidian district court said on an official microblog. The charge has often been used to detain protesters.

Ding Jiaxi, a well-known human rights lawyer, was jailed for three-and-a-half years, while veteran activist Zhao Changqing was jailed for two-and-a-half years, the court said.

Fellow protesters Zhang Baocheng and Li Wei both received two-year sentences.

The verdicts come a week after Beijing's high court upheld a four-year sentence for Xu Zhiyong, a founder of the movement. Ten New Citizens Movement members have faced trial this year.

"The ruling is a warning and a threat," Ge Yongxi, a lawyer for Zhang Baocheng told AFP, adding that his client complied with police requests to hand over his banners when the protests, involving a handful of activists, were curtailed.

"We think he's completely innocent, there is no legal basis for the court's ruling, and the punishment is too heavy," Ge said, adding that his client will appeal.

The activists were jailed "because they asked for officials to expose their assets," said Zhang Keke, a lawyer for Ding.

Zhang added that the court had violated regulations by not granting Ding an opportunity to express a demand to appeal the verdict after it was read out.

Police also detained six activists who travelled to Beijing to stand outside the court on Friday, fellow campaigner Wang Aizhong told AFP by phone.

Five diplomats attempting to attend the sentencings were barred from doing so, said Raphael Droszewski, a first secretary at the European Union's delegation to China.

He told AFP that the EU was concerned about the verdicts, adding that citizens were being "prosecuted for peacefully expressing their views".

Security has been heavy outside New Citizens Movement trials, with media barred from standing near courthouses and police sometimes manhandling journalists and diplomats.

China's ruling Communist Party has repeatedly vowed to combat rampant official corruption, with President Xi Jinping threatening to target high-ranking "tigers" and low-level "flies" in the face of public anger over the issue.

But the party has cracked down on activists pursuing the same goals, viewing independently organised anti-corruption protests as a challenge to its tight grip on power.

New Citizens Movement members have said the wave of arrests, which began last year, have heavily curbed their activities.

At its peak the group had an estimated several hundred participants, who organised dinner discussions across China and pushed for legal and educational reforms.

China anti-graft body probes state-owned company head
Beijing (AFP) April 17, 2014 - The head of one of China's major state-owned firms is being investigated by the country's anti-graft authority, the body said Thursday, following allegations of graft made by a domestic journalist.

China Resources chairman Song Lin is being probed for "suspected serious violations of discipline and law", China's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection said in a brief statement on its website.

The jargon used in the statement would suggest a corruption investigation has been launched.

A journalist with China's official Xinhua news agency, Wang Wenzhi, last July accused Song of "corruption involving a huge amount" and has since made further allegations.

Song has denied any wrongdoing.

China Resources, a Fortune Global 500 company, is a conglomerate operating in sectors including retail, property, finance and electricity.

Communist Party authorities have been waging a much-publicised anti-graft campaign in the year since President Xi Jinping came to power.

But critics say no systemic reforms have been introduced to increase transparency to help battle endemic graft.


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