Editor’s note: Zeng Chengjie, a white-collar businessman from Hunan who was sometimes referred to as “China’s Bernie Madoff”, was recently executed by lethal injection for illegal fundraising activities and financial fraud. The real estate developer allegedly defrauded more than 57,000 investors out of approximately 2.8 billion RMB (460 million USD), of which 1.7 billion RMB had been returned. Such crimes have a history of being dealt with harshly in China, but several facts surrounding his demise have sparked nationwide uproar, most notably the fact that no family member was notified prior to the execution.
His execution, and how it was handled by authorities, has prompted the country to question China’s justice system. In the wake of the Tang Hui story – in which the mother of a girl who was kidnapped, raped and forced into prostitution was sent to a labour camp for seeking justice and successfully managed to sue the courts – the issue of corruption and mishandling of cases in the legal system has rarely been as hotly debated as now. The article below, which was edited and translated from DWnews.com, talks about his crimes and how his secret execution came to light.
The resent execution of Zeng Chengjie has sparked an ongoing discussion. There are three reasons for this: 1. The Changsha Municipal Intermediate People's Court did not notify his relatives prior to his execution, 2. The court’s official microblogging site made one mistake after another (one of the tweets on Sina Weibo falsely claimed that China’s laws do not decree that a death row inmate must meet with his family before execution; the post was quickly deleted thereafter), in the end shifting the blame on their admin who “didn’t know enough about the law”, 3. Opinion leaders called for the resignation of the party secretary and president of Changsha Municipal Intermediate People's Court Luo Ningheng, and eventually pointed the finger at Zhou Qiang, President of China's Supreme People's Court.
Zeng Chengjie was sentenced to death for financial fraud on May 20, 2011 and on December 26 of that year his appeal was dismissed. Then on June 14, 2013 his death verdict was upheld, sealing his fate once and for all. The execution was carried out by the Changsha Municipal Intermediate People's Court on July 12. But Zeng’s death not only made the public think of Wu Ying, a young businesswoman from Zhejiang who was handed a death sentence (with reprieve) for running a Ponzi scheme, but they also started thinking about Liu Zhijun, the disgraced Railway Minister who should have been given the death sentence but didn’t (echoing the widely held sentiment that the death penalty does not exist for officials and has simply become another corruption tool in favor of the government). What’s more, Zeng’s case undoubtedly highlighted the self-contradictory statements of Zhou Qiang, the President of China’s Supreme People’s Court, who incessantly promised to improve the credibility of China’s justice system.
The Weibo post that gripped a nation
On the day that Zeng was executed, a verified Sina Weibo user called “曾成杰之女” (Zeng Chengjie’s Daughter), posted a microblog that instantly provoked debate. It said, “The bad news has come: this morning my dad was executed by lethal injection. We didn’t even get to see him one last time! There weren’t even any last words! Even now, the government hasn’t notified us! Who would have thought they’d act so fast! My dad died unjustly! We will reverse the verdict for him! Thanks for your continued attention, thanks everyone!”
Before the execution was carried out, did he have a right to demand seeing his relatives? According to the experts on Weibo, this question should have never become an issue. As Yu Jianrong, Professor at the Academy of Social Science said, “It doesn’t matter what crime was committed, the basic humanitarian treatment given should be the same for everyone.” Meanwhile, former Google exec and influential online opinion leader Lee Kaifu wrote, “If one day, I’m sentenced to death and told that I have the right to meet my family, I guarantee that I will absolutely ask to see my family.”
Changsha court’s posts add fuel to the fire
On July 13 at 17:20, amidst the public’s outcry, the Changsha Municipal Intermediate People's Court posted a startling message: “The law does not clearly mandate that a criminal must see his family before execution.” Within an instant, the damage was done. Despite deleting the post almost immediately, clever netizens had already taken screenshots; the deleted post would not disappear but instead, served to fuel the public’s anger further. One hour and 40 minutes after the first post, the Changsha court posted another message that read, “On the morning of July 12, before the Changsha Municipal Intermediate People's Court carried out the death sentence, the judge informed criminal Zeng Chengjie of his right to see his relatives. However, the criminal Zeng Chengjie did not put forward such a request, not even during his last words. ”
This claim can’t be verified because the man in question is dead. It doesn’t matter whether or not Zeng Chengjie did in fact put forward this request and whether the Changsha courts were telling the truth. The fact of the matter is that very few people believe the court. It was after all the courts who claimed that “The law does not clearly mandate that a criminal must see his family before execution”. What can be said to convince the people otherwise?
Perhaps in an attempt to figure out the source of the public’s anger, an hour later the Changsha court once again posted a message on Weibo which once again proved to be utterly ridiculous and just added to the discontent: “Incorrect information was posted this morning because the Weibo admin hadn’t researched criminal law sufficiently. We have given harsh critiques to the main staff members involved and would like to apologize to netizens and the public. From today onwards, we will insist that staff involved in compiling information strengthen their research in order to avoid similar mistakes.”
Another twist: The role of Zhou Qiang
In another twist to the story, commentators have been quick to debate about the influence of Zhou Qiang in the execution of Zeng Chengjie. Zhou Qiang was the Hunan party secretary before he became the chief justice of the Supreme Court in March, the highest court in China. Zhou was overseeing Hunan Province when Zeng was convicted and sentenced to death in 2011. Zeng’s daughter has claimed that her father’s charity fundraisers (for which he was convicted alongside financial fraud) were supported by the local government who often worked closely with him. After new policies were introduced in 2009, officials were the first to withdraw investments leaving only Zeng behind as the man accountable. His assets were then sold off by the local government for 330 million Yuan without notification which, according to Tsinghua University law professor Yi Yanyou, “was an illegal move.” Did Zeng have too much information about officials’ involvement in illegal investments?
As the online community continue to speculate and debate about the increasing number of problems decaying the justice system from within, one thing is clear: despite half measure attempts to win the trust of the public, the credibility of China’s legal system is at an all-time low and no official Weibo post can restore that trust any time soon.
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Keywords: China’s justice system Zeng Chengjie
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The reason for Zeng's death sentence while ex-minister of the State Railway Ministry, Liu Zhi Jun, a super corrupt official, was not executed is that China's justice system serves the politics and a conviction for a big case is determined by a communist party secretary despite of those legal provisions.
Jul 31, 2013 21:20 Report Abuse
My main concern about this execution is that he was barely a criminal; he was just another Communist Party cum Capitalist cronie who wasn't doing anything that the government is not doing now. We all know how many train tickets China sells a day...yet under Liu Zhijun the Rail system lost a billion dollars a year. Liu Zhijun is under house arrest and banned from politics, while a man who paid back most of what he stole got executed just like the years under Chairman Mao... without so much as a visit from his family and more than likely accidentally beaten or starved to death.
Jul 28, 2013 07:28 Report Abuse
Seems quite clear this man acted in a way that hurt many many people. THis type of crime will only encourage more corruptions and financial crimes. Unfortunately this is the only thing that might scare these types of people. Financial crimes is a direct threat to the security of not only China and its financial system but global financial institutions as well. Examples must be made. I wish We (Americans) would have executed some bankers and financial institution leaders when they almost destroyed our financial system. His family didnt care how much pain and trouble he was causing by stealing and corrupting others. They didnt complain when he bought many housed and cars and luxury goods...Financial criminals are committing treason to the people of this country and hurting society...why should he have been given soft treatment? Who do these people think they are to steal and cheat? I have no sympathy for this scumbag! Millions upon millions of good hard working Chinese should not have to endure these people being successful in robbing others and then running off to Canada or USA with their ill gotten funds.
Jul 26, 2013 18:05 Report Abuse
Death Penalty should be implemented all over the world, corruption affects thousands if not millions of people for the benefit of one or few bastards. Other horrible crimes, too, should be strictly & efficiently punished with the death penalty. It shouldn't matter whether it's a government official or just a common business man, he/she should be erased from this world. Society should see it this way: A WELL-DESERVED DEATH FOR THE WELL-BEING OF THOUSANDS.
Jul 25, 2013 18:02 Report Abuse
The ultimate argument against Death Penalty was given by Tolkien in his 'The Lord of the Rings': One should not take what one cannot give. As no-one, nor any judicial system, is infallible, and Death Penalty by it's nature is irreversible, I see no justification whatsoever for applying it. In this case, we are discussing financial crimes. Money can be returned, fraudulent people can be imprisoned. Furthermore, as the article suggests, this guy was not alone. Just the extension of contemporary Chinese culture. Cut off one head of the dragon of corruption and ten others will grow back.
Jul 25, 2013 19:45 Report Abuse
fernandojr100 I am shocked at your lack of information about how death penalty is carried out in China. It's become a tool to silent anti-government sentiments. Death sentence whether in favor of it or not should be the last option for the worst of criminals, it should not be politicize and due law processes should be followed.
Jul 26, 2013 13:50 Report Abuse
DonNoble, I'm well aware of it, I know the death penalty implementation has many flaws in China, that's why I said it should be implemented "stricly & efficiently" meaning that a thorough investigation is extremely necessary to find the real offender(s) for a crime, hope you can read better next time.
Jul 29, 2013 11:27 Report Abuse
Vyborg, you simply see no justification because you cannot see nor feel the consequences of these criminals' actions. An efficient death penalty system can certainly induce the necessary fear on crime prone people, so I definitely don't agree with your "cut off one head...ten others will grow back".
Jul 29, 2013 11:40 Report Abuse
China is almost a developed country, but they work on the court like if they haven't even finished middle school. Especially with death penality, a long and serious investigation is needed, in which the law is followed strictly. Unfortunatelly, how I have read here, the death penality was given for actually not too bad crimes. Also, some laws were not followed by the court. I find it really strange that "caveman like" people work for the government in an almost developed country. In addition, if China doesn't want to be regarded as a "just" manufacturing, undeveloped country, where people are forced to work as they were animals, then the Chinese government should make some better laws regarding what is allowed, what is not allowed and when should someone be killed.(But, I think a death penality shouldn't even exist in a strong,developed country)
Jul 25, 2013 08:33 Report Abuse