“Ghost Hunt” Prompts Officials to Rein in Embezzlement of Relief Tents

A few hours after a message appeared on an Internet forum alleging relief tents destined for earthquake victims had been embezzled, millions of Internet users in China got outraged and prompted officials to investigate the scandal.

A netizen who named himself “Peaceful Heart” posted a message exposing embezzlement of relief tents on a local Internet forum last Tuesday. The tents were pitched in wealthy residential areas of Chengdu which were not damaged by the recent Sichuan earthquake. He questioned how the tents ended up in these places and called on the public to “catch the ghosts” who had embezzled the relief materials.

The message was immediately copied onto a number of Internet forums and websites in China and aroused massive public outrage over the scandal.

A few hours afterwards, several hundred Chengdu residents besieged a street relief tent whose owner was apparently not an earthquake victim, demanding to know the origin of the tent.

They also called local police and urged them to confiscate the tent. A scuffle broke out when the police failed to appease the crowd’s anger, according to Southern Metropolis News.

The incident and the embezzlement allegations were covered nationwide by newspaper reporters and commented on by columnists and bloggers, who exhorted government departments to investigate the scandal.

Under the pressure of public opinion, officials of the Sichuan Provincial Government and the central government vowed to investigate the allegations.

The Chengdu Police Department issued an urgent notice to all its branches and started a special campaign against misuse of relief tents in the city the second day after the public’s complaint, according to Chengdu Evening News,

The City of Mianyang, which was devastated by the Sichuan earthquake, has set up a supervision team for relief funds management. It has investigated several dozen corruption allegations and dismantled more than 10 misused relief tents, according to people.com.

The National Audit Office of China also set up a hotline for the public to report on corruption in relief work and announced the phone number 010-68301242 on its website Monday.

“Anyone who has found embezzlement, corruption, fraud or waste in managing relief funds and materials can contact us through the above phone number or through our website, ” the announcement said.

However, whistleblower “Peaceful Heart’s” original message has been deleted by censors, so were a number of other Internet messages that had copied the photos he posted.

Tent scandal
The tent is printed with large white characters meaning “Disaster Relief”. The red characters were put on by outraged netizens: “Relief tents unexpectedly appear in Shangdong Sunshine Residence. We urge related government department to investigate the problem!”

Tent scandal 2

The blue tent in the distance was apparently set up near a wealthy neighborhood, which has large green space and swimming pools (on the left).

tent scandal 3

The tent was dismantled after it gained attention.

Click here and here for more photos.