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Nanjing official under investigation
By Tan Yingzi (China Daily)
Updated: 2008-12-23 09:03

A real estate management official in Nanjing spotted in a photograph wearing a high-end luxurious wristwatch and smoking expensive cigarettes is under investigation, the local government said on its website on the weekend.

The Jiangning district government launched a probe into Zhou Jiugeng's financial assets after a large number of netizens commented on an online photograph showing the official sporting a 100,000-yuan ($14,600) watch and smoking a 150-yuan packet of cigarettes, the statement said.

Zhou will be strictly punished if found guilty of any corruption or violation of laws and discipline, it said.

Internet users spotted Zhou in an online photograph published recently wearing a Vacheron Constantin, a Swiss luxurious watch, with a pack of Nanjing 95 Imperial cigarettes kept in front of him.

Zhou Jiugeng [File]

An entry-level Constantin watch costs at least 100,000 yuan in China while a small pack of Nanjing 95 Imperial costs 150 yuan.

It was later found Zhou drove a Cadillac car to work.

A number of netizens, wondering how a public servant could afford such a luxurious lifestyle, filed their complaints with the related government departments.

In the past week, Zhou has hit the headlines for his flamboyant lifestyle that has earned him mentions in over 4,600 blogs online, according to the Xinhua New Agency.

Zhou, 48, director of the real estate management bureau in Jiangning district, sparked a heated debate in the Chinese media last week when he said real estate developers should be punished if they sold properties below cost. But common house buyers, who cannot afford expensive housing, bombarded his views.

Facing the mounting media exposure, Jiangning district government has already taken actions to investigate Zhou's life, said the statement published on its website on Saturday.

It also said no real estate companies had been punished so far for cutting property prices.

"The Internet users' suspicion on Zhou's lifestyle is quite reasonable," Qiu Baocheng, dean of the Beijing-based Huijia Law Firm, said.

"In order to crack down on corruption, the government should encourage the public to keep an eye on its officials, because the officials live among the common people," he said.

Qiu said it was possible that Zhou received the expensive items as gifts from friends or family, but maintained that a public servant should live modestly.

Companies producing high-end cigarettes, too, have been subjected to criticism from the online community saying expensive brands are just another "tool for bribery".

Shanghai-based Orient Morning Post quoted sources in the Nanjing Cigarette Factory as saying that most of the people who buy 95 Imperial give the packets out as gifts.