by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) May 22, 2012
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 Tuesday, after her original sentence sparked a public outcry.
Wu Ying, a hairdresser who built a business empire from scratch, had her sentence reduced to death with a two-year reprieve 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 recent years, Wu was sentenced to death in 2009 for swindling private investors out of about 380 million yuan ($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.
As the case unravelled, it highlighted the extent of unofficial fund-raising, particularly in the booming east coast province of Zhejiang, prompted by the difficulties private enterprises face when seeking loans from state-run banks.
Wu's case attracted considerable sympathy from the Chinese public, who do not normally oppose death sentences.
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-employed official.
Others also argued that the case reflected what they saw as the government's determination to curb business freedom.
"The case demonstrates that China needs at least 200 years to set up a market economy," Zhang Weiying, the former dean of a management school at Peking University, told Caixin magazine earlier this year.
Reacting online to Wu's re-sentencing, many members of the Chinese public reiterated this view.
"Wu Ying lost because she didn't join the Communist Party at the time when her impact on society was at its greatest," said one Internet user on Sina's weibo, a microblog service similar to Twitter.
"As long as it's not a death sentence, she can still bounce back," wrote another. "After all, this is China, and everything can happen."
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.
When she was interviewed by local media in her heyday in the middle of the last decade, she said she made her first fortune selling a cosmetic product made from sheep placenta.
Her hard work and acumen paid off. The Hurun list of China's wealthiest described her as the sixth-richest Chinese woman in 2006, with a net worth of 3.6 billion yuan ($567 million), according to reports published at the time.
In the past three years, her appeal has worked its way through the judicial system and in April the supreme court overturned her death penalty, ordering the Zhejiang high court to re-sentence her.
The Zhejiang high court said after the new sentencing hearing that it opted for leniency given Wu's willingness to admit her crimes and provide information that had led to the arrest of several corrupt officials.
According to the London-based rights group Amnesty International, every year China executes more criminals than the rest of the world combined, although the actual numbers of people the country puts to death remains a state secret.
Earlier this year, the US rights group Dui Hua reported that China had halved its executions since 2007, when its high court began reviewing death row cases, but that it still puts around 4,000 people to death every year.
China News from SinoDaily.com
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Chen revives debate on US influence in China
Washington (AFP) May 21, 2012
The United States has achieved a rare human rights breakthrough with China by negotiating the departure of dissident Chen Guangcheng, but few are ready to predict that the case will set a precedent. The dramatic case has revived debate over what influence the United States holds on human rights with China's increasingly confident leadership, which in recent years has ended a practice of free ... read more
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