07/15/2008, 00.00
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Corruption at the Olympics: torchbearer arrested for billions of yuan in fraud

He profited from his fame and from the trust of the people, defrauding 50,000 people with promises of large profits. An important local politician is also involved. Serious episodes of corruption at the Games in Beijing, never truly exposed to world public opinion.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Wu Zhenhai, designated to carry the torch on July 26 in Shangqiu (Henan), has been arrested for cheating more than 50,000 people out of billions of yuan. Government officials are also involved in the scandal.

According to the Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, Wu, president of the Aftertime Agriculture Co. in Shangqiu, cheated more than 50,000 people by receiving financing of 1.2 billion yuan (120 million euros) with a promise of 15% annual interest or more, or of receiving greater sums in the form of company stock at a public offering.

The police and judicial authorities say that Wu was arrested together with others on July 1, "for investigational purposes", and their assets were frozen, obtained "with many people involved and a wide area covered, and therefore has seriously sabotaged the socialist economic order".

Also under investigation by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection - although he has not been arrested - is Liu Mancang, vice governor of Henan and vice secretary of the communist party of Shangqiu since 1998, and an open supporter of the company. Local sources say that one of Liu's relatives obtained 1.5 million yuan from the fraud, and Wu's wife received at least 4 million in "commissions".

Now the people defrauded want their money back, and the scandal is rocking various officials, who have now been dismissed. On July 11, more than 1,000 victims conducted a peaceful protest for three hours in front government offices in Shangqiu.

Meanwhile, anonymous sources of the Beijing Olympic Committee do not exclude the idea that Wu might still carry the torch, leaving the decision to the government of Henan.

Although Beijing says it wants to conduct a transparent Olympics, serious episodes of corruption have emerged. The most serious case revealed so far led to the June 2006 arrest of the deputy mayor of Beijing, Liu Zhihua, who was sentenced in December of 2006 for taking millions of yuan in his position of responsibility for building, sport facilities, and road projects for the Games. The lack of freedom of information is feeding an image of serious irregularities, including the many abuses committed in order to carry out Olympic projects, like the forced appropriation of entire neighborhoods in Beijing.

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