Antiques fraud fuels anger over appraisal

Updated: 2011-09-07 07:54

By Cao Yin and Zheng Jinran (China Daily)

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BEIJING - Questions over the appraisal of antiques in China are again being asked, as details begin to surface about how a crooked businessman swindled 1 billion yuan ($156 million) from a bank using forged artifacts.

One of Xie Genrong's fakes was even valued by a team of leading experts as being worth billions.

The 51-year-old was convicted in 2009, yet the facts of his crimes are only now coming to light as he appeals to reduce his life sentence at the Higher People's Court in Beijing.

As president of Huaersen Group, which was involved in property development, logistics and hotel investment, Xie was once listed as one of the country's wealthiest men. However, a former assistant told Beijing News the company was constantly in debt and survived on bank loans.

By 2000, Xie had used 555 fake real estate sales contracts to secure loans worth a total of 660 million yuan from China Construction Bank, according to court reports.

When the banks became concerned about his debt in 2002, he hired Niu Fuzhong, a relics expert, to join together two pieces of jade clothing, and later presented them to antiques experts. "Xie gave me the pieces of jade and I made them into two whole jade suits," Niu told Beijing News. "Neither of them was valuable."

Yet, five leading appraisers disagreed, and even set the price of one suit at 2.4 billion yuan.

Using the evaluation, Xie hoodwinked two bankers at the China Construction Bank and secured another 450 million yuan in loans.

Police eventually caught Xie in 2008 and he was sentenced a year later. The two bankers were given prison terms of 19 and 20 years for attempting to help Xie cover up the fraud.

So how were China's top antiques experts fooled? Well, it seems they were not.

Yang Fuxu, a senior expert with Peking University's Gem Appraisal Center, who is in his late 70s and was one of the five appraisers, admitted to Beijing Youth Daily that the team evaluated the pieces without even touching them.

Also at the appraisal were Shi Shuqing, a renowned art historian and expert in cultural relics who died in 2007 aged 85, and Yang Boda, deputy curator of the Palace Museum, now 84.

The 2.4 billion yuan price tag may just have been a casual guess by Shi, according to Yang, who told Mirror Evening News the case containing the suits was never opened during the appraisal and that he "just followed the others" as Shi, his boss, was there. He added that everyone received more than 10,000 yuan for the appraisal.

Shi's wife Xia Meiyun, however, said in an interview with Beijing News that these claims are only coming out now "because my husband is dead".

Li Jingsong, former secretary-general of the Gemological Association of China, said the appraisal was like a friends' gathering.

Zhang Shuwei, director of Beijing Art Museum, said it is illegal for antique experts to carry out private, commercial evaluations. Besides, the appraisal was a farce, not a serious identification," he said. "They should have studied the shape, weight and even taste of the antique carefully."

Xiao Li, an administrator at China Construction Bank, said the bank no longer receives applicants who use antiques to secure loans.