Zhou Zhenglong, the farmer who was found guilty of faking photographs of an endangered species of tiger in the wild had his jail term commuted to two-and-a-half years with a three-year reprieve during an appeal Monday in Shaanxi province. He was also fined 2,000 yuan ($300).
On Sept 27, the People's court in Xunyang county, sentenced Zhou, 54, to two-and-a-half years in prison and fined him 2,000 yuan, after finding him guilty of fraud and illegal possession of a gun.
His appeal hearing began at 8:30 am at the Ankang intermediate people's court and lasted more than 10 hours, as the judges summoned 17 witnesses.
Zhou, a native of Zhenping county, faked pictures last year of a South China tiger, a subspecies that is believed to have been extinct for years.
The provincial forestry department announced Zhou's "discovery" to the public in October of last year, and gave him a 20,000-yuan award.
However, doubts over the authenticity of the photographs grew when an image of a tiger taken from a calendar, which was identical to the one in Zhou's photograph, was posted on the Internet.
The Shaanxi provincial government said in June that Zhou's tiger photos were fake.
Police arrested Zhou after seizing an old tiger poster, which Zhou allegedly used to produce his photos.
They also found a wooden model of a tiger paw and 93 bullets in his home.
Gu Yushu, Zhou's lawyer, said at the court Monday that Zhou was commissioned by the local government to look for the rare tiger and was not aware of monetary reward beforehand.
The award was given by the local forestry bureau afterward, so it is not suitable to convict Zhou of "fraud", Gu said.
Also, although Zhou possessed the bullets illegally, he did not use them and did not cause any harm to anyone.
Therefore, Gu pleaded for leniency for Zhou on this charge.