Disappeared Businesswoman Briefly Reappears As Ex-husband’s Memoir On Elite Corruption Published

Businesswoman Duan Weihong, who disappeared in 2017 after the arrest of politburo member Sun Zhengcai, resurfaced this past week to request that her ex-husband not publish an explosive memoir detailing elite corruption in China. Duan, who also goes by Whitney Duan, was a main focus of a 2012 New York Times investigation into then-Premier Wen Jiabao’s family wealth, and her name quickly became a sensitive term. Desmond Shum, Duan’s ex-husband and former business partner, believes she is being held under house arrest by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI). In an interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep, Shum said Duan called him twice, asking him to cancel the book and intimating that their son may be in danger. He says he believes the calls were “made at the behest of high-placed Communist party officials and monitored by China’s security services.”

SHUM: Nobody has a word for the last four years. The government never acknowledged they have taken her. And they never charged her. Actually, it’s funny – well, if that’s the – such a word as funny. I asked her, what is her charge? She said – she says it need to be confidential. She cannot disclose what her charge is.

[…] SHUM: I don’t think it’s possible [to cancel the book]. And I have no intention whatsoever. I mean – but I know bureaucrats in Beijing probably, you know, don’t know that. They thinking probably I can pull it in the last minute. And then she gave me a second call after that, you know?

[…] SHUM: That’s being one of them because she’s – you know, she told us she is a temporary release and then they can take her back any time. And then she actually tell, you know, sort of – she asked me the question, what would happen to our son if something unfortunate happened to me? She asked the question (sighing), how would I feel if something happened to our son? And then she used sort of the code slogan – you know, in China they have this slogan, so the ones who opposes the state will see no good ending. [Source]

Melissa Chan noted that Shum’s book is in part an attempt to rehabilitate his own image:

Shum’s book makes a number of explosive claims, among them that Wen Jiabao’s wife took a 30 percent stake in the couple’s investments with the tacit agreement that they had the premier’s endorsement. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Shum claimed the country was wholly owned by “red bloodlines.” Wen, once China’s second most powerful official, has remained out of the spotlight since his retirement and the scandal that followed the publication of the New York Times’ exposé. However, earlier this year he published an essay memorializing his mother that many interpreted as a veiled critique of Xi Jinping’s leadership: “China, in my vision, should be a country of justice and fairness.” The essay was censored and no major Chinese media ran it.

In The Economist’s Chaguan column this week, David Rennie wrote that the lurid corruption Shum details belies the Party’s stance that internal monitoring, as opposed to the scrutiny of a free press, can keep it honest:

In the party’s telling, its autocracy is a merit-based system run by technocrats who are free to take the long view and act for the common good, rather than worrying about the next election. Mr Shum describes the reality. To build a new airport cargo terminal, he spent three years collecting 150 official seals from sundry agencies and ministries, many of them locked in paralysing competition with one another. That quest involved, at various points, arranging heart-bypass surgery for a local official who collapsed during a junket to Las Vegas and California, and building airport-customs officers a new complex, complete with tennis courts and a 200-seat theatre.

Mr Shum names the hotel in Beijing where, on any given night, three or four government ministers were hosted by entrepreneurs eager to buy their favour, in a labyrinth of private dining rooms designed to keep different groups from spotting each other. His book turns a jaundiced, insider’s eye on claims that, in the absence of a free press, independent judiciary and other checks and balances, officials are held to account by internal targets. Explaining the purging of a big airports boss, Mr Shum concedes that the official’s gambling habit made him vulnerable, but insists that his cardinal error was to exceed revenue targets by such a margin that rival bureaucrats craved his job.

[…] They even enjoy special forms of corruption, he notes. Rather than hustle to build real businesses, he describes princelings seeking lucrative monopoly contracts from the state. Most damningly, he charges that the well-born are shielded during anti-corruption probes, in part because they know to obey what he calls the party’s Mafia-like code of silence. He asserts that Li Peiying, the airports boss, was executed after talking too much about high-level corruption, while in the same year a party elder’s son was only jailed for taking larger bribes. “Red aristocrats got a prison sentence; commoners got a bullet in the head,” he writes. [Source]

That final claim is doubly sensitive amid a reinvigorated push to root out corruption. Over 900,000 Party members have been expelled for corruption since November 2012, the month Xi assumed the role of General Secretary. Xi’s first anti-corruption campaign never ended, and a number of high-profile figures were netted over the summer. In an ironic twist, Peng Bo, once the deputy head of Leading Group for the Prevention and Handling of Cults, was recently expelled for engaging in “superstitious activities,” as well as corruption.

Much of the current campaign is focused on ties between enterprise and the Party. The deputy director of the Research Center for Government Integrity-Building at Peking University told Global Times: “China has already achieved great progress in dealing with corrupt officials who take bribes, and now we need to step up efforts to crack down on those who bribe them.” Last month, a senior banker at the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China was sentenced to life in prison for giving bribes. On Wednesday of this week, the CCDI, in partnership with a host of other departments and agencies, announced strict rules targeting both bribe-givers and bribe-takers. From William Zheng, at The South China Morning Post:

China’s anti-corruption bodies and law enforcement organs have said they are exploring measures to get tougher on people who give bribes – not just officials who take them – and build a blacklist of suspected bribers.

[…] “But this one is released by offices of much higher authority, covering more top agencies and reflecting a [more] solemn attitude and concerted effort [by the leadership] to target the bribers, because they are now regarded as a major cause of corruption,” [said Hao Yachao, a partner at Beijing W&H Law Firm.]

[…] “The anti-corruption agency wants to send a clear reminder to businesspeople and entities that risks associated with corruption have substantially increased. The punishment for offering bribes may not be criminal but may come in various alternative forms such as administrative and disciplinary measures, like barring market entry,” [said Michelle Miao, an associate professor in criminal law and the Chinese legal system at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.] [Source]

The campaign has been wide-ranging. Between February and June, the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission investigated endemic corruption in the judiciary. Tao Jingzhou, an international arbitrator, explained one factor to the South China Morning Post: “Chinese judges start practising right after graduation, unlike Western countries where they generally work as lawyers first and then become judges. So there is no accumulation of wealth and no high salaries in China, and many judges are envious of the high income of lawyers.” Investigators at the CCDI recently concluded a two-year investigation into false statistics issued by national and provincial Party committees and governments. Common issues included falsifying monthly growth rates and coordinating fraudulent reporting with local businesses, even offering them “fraud subsidies” to comply. The CCDI has also chimed in on a crackdown on the “chaos” of the entertainment industry, singling out celebrities for tax evasion.


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