Nation's youngest tycoon behind bars

By Huang Zhiling (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-12-02 06:29

CHENGDU: Zhou Yiming, the youngest tycoon on Forbes magazine's list of China's 400 richest people last year, was sentenced to life imprisonment on Friday in Suining in Southwest China's Sichuan Province.

"The Suining Intermediate People's Court announced the verdict this (Friday) morning on the charge of contractual fraud," said Tan Shengbin, director of the court's general office.

Zhou had accepted the charges against him and did not say whether he would appeal to a higher court, Tan told China Daily.

Zhou, a 32-year-old businessman, had been arrested after he acquired nearly US$69 million through his stake in Sichuan Mingxing Electric, a major supplier of water, electricity and gas to 3.8 million residents in Suining.

The case began in August 2002, when Sichuan Mingxing Electric, a listed company, decided to sell shares worth 380 million yuan (US$48 million) a 28 per cent stake in the firm on the stock market.

At that time Mingxing Electric had 100 million yuan (US$13 million) in capital and no debt, making it an attractive target for investors, including Zhou, chairman of the Shenzhen Minglun Group Ltd, an electronics and food processing company.

In 2003, Zhou paid 110,000 yuan (US$13,900) to Shenzhen Zhongxi Accounting Company to help him forge an audit of his personal finances. The fake reports inflated Shenzhen Minglun Group's net assets in 2002 to 1.2 billion yuan (US$152 million), although the company had actually been in debt to the tune of 280 million yuan (US$35 million) at the time.

Zhou used the fake reports to borrow 380 million yuan (US$48 million) from three banks, which he then used to acquire the 28 per cent stake in Sichuan Mingxing Electricity.

The court held that Zhou began to siphon capital from the Sichuan company after he gained control, acquiring nearly US$69 million with the help of several accomplices and causing the company to suffer huge financial losses.

Forbes last year ranked Zhou as 207th among China's 400 richest people, with a personal fortune estimated at US$121 million. According to the Guangzhou-based Nanfang Daily, despite their growing wealth, the richest people on the Chinese mainland paid less tax in 2006 than the year before.

A report on the newspaper's annual list of the mainland's wealthiest people revealed that the personal assets of the 120 entrepreneurs were worth on average 2.062 billion yuan (US$2.6 million), an increase of 202 million yuan (US$26 million), or 10 per cent, compared to last year.

However, they only paid average taxes of 270 million yuan (US$35 million), compared with 283 million yuan (US$36 million) in 2005, the newspaper said.

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