BEIJING - A man who used fake military documents to evade 3.68 million yuan ($557,000) in highway toll fees in a Central China city has been sentenced to life in prison for fraud.
It was reportedly the first life sentence for such a violation in the country.
Pingdingshan Intermediate People's Court in Henan province heard that Shi Jianfeng, from Yuzhou city, bought two fake military car license plates, military driver's licenses, military ID cards and other documents.
Tollgate records showed that Shi avoided toll payment 2,362 times from May 2008 to January 2009, the court said.
Shi said in court that he hired people to drive two trucks to transport sand and stone and had earned more than 200,000 yuan during that period.
He was fined 2 million yuan and his illegal revenue was confiscated, according to the court verdict.
Shi did not hire a lawyer and does not plan to appeal, the court said.
An employee, surnamed Li, at Xiatang tollgate on Zhengzhou-Yaoshan Highway where Shi's trucks went through every day, said Shi claimed he was a soldier with Xuchang city's Armed Police division and came to apply for toll-free passes for two trucks in May 2008, saying there was a construction project going on for the division, the local Dahe Daily reported.
The documents were complete, but there was no way to identify if they were authentic, according to Li.
Shi Jianfeng admitted that he used fake military documents to evade toll fees in order to earn more money.
Fearing that tollgate employees would notice flaws in the documents, he regularly changed his drivers, the report said.
Police caught on to the ruse in January 2009 and detained Shi in December that year, it said.
Dahe Daily quoted Lou Yanwei, chief justice in Shi's case, as saying that the court reached the verdict based on the long duration of the illegal activities and the huge amount of fee evasion as well as his use of fake military documents.
Although the case had concluded, some netizens questioned the sum of the toll payments evaded by Shi.
One commented on sina.com.cn that if two trucks evaded 3.68 million yuan in toll fees in eight months, each one would have been charged nearly 8,000 yuan every day. "How can a driver earn such a large sum of money to afford the toll fees," the unidentified netizen said.
Another said the 200,000 yuan earned by Shi Jianfeng was in stark contrast to the toll fees evaded. "I suspect that the court did not check the facts and the punishment is too excessive," he said.
A truck with load of 20 to 40 tons will be charged 2 yuan per kilometer for traveling on highways in Henan. Each of Shi's trucks was capable of transporting 25 tons of goods and the mileage of each trip was around 130 km, media reported.
Generally, there are two tollgates within 40 km on highways, independent auto analyst Jia Xinguang told China Daily.
Che Xingyi, a Beijing-based lawyer said as far as he knew, Shi's case was the first in China where a life sentence was given to someone for evading toll fees.
Che said if Shi had only evaded toll fees, he would only be asked to make the payments. But his use of fake documents to "win the trust" of officials meant his actions could be interpreted as fraud and he would be held legally responsible, the lawyer said.
But Che also expressed doubt about the sum of money that the court said Shi Jianfeng had evaded.
"The court ought to explain how it calculated the amount of money evaded and how prosecutors argued for its authenticity," he said.
The punishment would not be so severe if the sum was not that big, he added.
Cao Yin contributed to this story.