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A woman billionaire who owes about 600 million yuan ($95 million) to private moneylenders and banks has gone missing, according to authorities in Changshu, Jiangsu province.
Gu Chunfang, dubbed the "most beautiful businesswoman" by residents, disappeared after borrowing more than 100 million yuan from banks and nearly 500 million yuan from private lenders by promising high returns with a 40 percent annual interest rate, said Xi Jian, deputy director of Changshu Party committee's publicity department.
"More than 30 moneylenders have turned to public authorities for help. A panel consisting of court officials, police and the government's financing department are investigating the case," Xi said.
"Now the most important job is to determine whether this is contract fraud, a criminal case or private fundraising. Only then can creditors be compensated accordingly," Xi said.
Gu's disappearance comes in the wake of a similar case, in which businesswoman Wu Ying was sentenced to death for having illegally raised 770 million yuan. The death sentence is still being reviewed by the Supreme People's Court.
Wu's death sentence sparked an outcry, with opponents arguing that capital punishment was too harsh for someone who used the money to invest instead of personal indulgence.
Some economists also thought the punishment unjustified at a time when borrowing money from a bank can prove difficult for private-owned companies.
A friend of Gu and director of a local company, who asked to remain anonymous, told China Daily that the mining business Gu had invested in required a lot of money.
"She borrowed money from friends in the city, first at an interest rate of 10 to 20 percent and later at a higher rate, because she had to borrow more to pay the excessive interest," he said.
The man said he could "foresee her misfortune", since the interest rate Gu offered was so "unreasonable".
He said the local head of a real estate company who loaned Gu 180 million yuan had committed suicide.
The runaway billionaire, who is in her 40s, used to own a trading company, a clothing shop and a high-end manicure store. Previously, she was a cosmetic saleswoman, and worked as a model, appearing in a local government video to promote the city.
Xi admitted the amount of money involved in Gu's case may rise, but he denied claims that it was as much as 1 billion yuan.
Zhou Siyang, a businessman from Changshu who owes 230 million yuan to banks, was also found to have gone missing at the end of February.
The economic investigation department of Changshu's public security bureau has warned residents on its micro blog to be cautious when lending money and to carefully consider potential risks.
As one of the most developed county-level administrative divisions, Changshu is known for having an advanced private economy and in 2010 recorded an annual GDP per capita of more than $20,000.
Song Wenwei in Nanjing and Zhao Yinan in Beijing contributed to this story.