Reports of corrupt Chinese officials seem to be a dime a dozen these days, and it’s easy for readers to get blasé about such news. So this week, the Beijing Youth Daily provided its audience with a helpful info-graphic to highlight the case of Wei Pengyuan.
Wei, deputy director of the coal division of the National Energy Administration, was found with 100 million renminbi -- $16 million -- at his home, the financial news publication Caixin reported this week, citing unnamed investigators.
Since the 100-renminbi note is the largest-denomination bill in circulation, that means that Wei’s alleged stash presented a bit of a storage problem. Such a hoard, if stacked in one tall tower, would reach 328 feet high, the Youth Daily said. Laid out end to end, the haul would stretch 96 miles -- the length of Beijing’s Third Ring Road and Fifth Ring Road combined.
Investigators had to bring in 16 cash-counting machines to tally the money, Caixin said; four of the devices -- which can process 1,000 bills per minute -- burned out in the process.
How exactly Wei kept his cash wasn’t disclosed, but other officials with large piles of money have gotten creative. In recent years, Chinese media have reported on a provincial party secretary found with 25 million renminbi in safe deposit boxes; a former provincial construction chief who hid 20 million renminbi in a hollow tree trunk, a toilet and a rice field; and an ex-highway bureau boss who kept 2.8 million renminbi in a trash dump.
Wei might have put his stash into suitcases (he would have needed 32 to be precise, according to the Youth Daily). But Samsonite was not an option for another case that authorities investigated recently: Shao Yanfang, a provincial-level political advisor arrested in December, was found with a bulkier haul -- 22 elephant tusks.
Shao was dismissed as a member of Zhejiang province’s committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference this week, state-run media reported. Authorities found that she had bought a total of 36 tusks in recent years, though investigators could not locate 14 of them.
President Xi Jinping has vowed to crack down on graft both at high levels (“tigers”) and at the grass-roots (“flies”), and the cases just keep rolling in at a mind-numbing pace. In the first three months of this year, prosecutors investigated 8,222 cases -- up 24% compared with the same period last year, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate said this week.
More than 10,800 officials were involved, up almost 20%, and “major cases” made up 82% of the total, the state-run China Daily newspaper reported.
Perhaps no case is as highly anticipated as that of Zhou Yongkang, the nation’s former top domestic security official and ex-overseer of the national oil industry. The government has yet to make any official announcement about Zhou, but he has not been seen in public since last October and speculation is rife that formal corruption charges are in the offing.
In recent months, scores of his relatives, friends and associates -- perhaps as many as 300 people, by some accounts -- have been detained or questioned.
In March, a Reuters investigation reported that authorities had seized $14.5 billion worth of assets from Zhou’s family and associates.
Corrupt officials who hoard cash, however, may at least be doing ordinary folks at least one favor: By taking so many bills out of circulation even as China’s money supply has expanded greatly in the last decade, they seem to be holding down inflation, Chinese commentator Yu Hua said in the New York Times last week.
Tommy Yang and Nicole Liu in the Times’ Beijing bureau contributed to this report.