And Finally

Tunnel, no vision

Renegade banker comes in from the cold

Tunnel, no vision

Forest chump: he lived near here

Signs of an end to China’s underground banking problem?

For eight years, banker Chen Jianxue hid from police, deep in tunnels he had dug in the forests of Hainan island. On November 8, tired of life as a “forest man,” the former deputy manager of China Agricultural Bank’s branch in Lin’gao turned himself in to face charges of corruption and theft.

Chen now seems to be celebrating his return to civilisation, even if he is now in detention.

All it took was a bowl of instant noodles: “I felt like they treated me like a man, they gave me food. After eight years, I could resume my life as a human being again,” Chen said. “It feels so good,” he said. “I didn’t know if I was a human or a ghost.”

Chen’s forest life began in 2003, when rumours spread of an investigation at his employer. Police believe 34 staff were involved in stealing Rmb30 million ($4.7 million) from the bank, the Hainan Daily reports, with Chen making his escape knowing that he would be implicated in the fraud.

Despite a series of manhunts designed to bring him to justice, police failed to spot any of the three warrens that Chen had dug in woods that he knew from his childhood. He then seems to have survived on food and newspapers brought to him by accomplices, none of whom betrayed him despite the offer of a Rmb100,000 reward.

Through it all, Chen insists, his wife remained loyal.

It sounds like a tough life, especially during the manhunts.

“I jumped into the river from the mountainside, then hid in caves by the river with big leaves covering my face. Some of the police carried guns, others approached slowly with dogs. I could see it all clearly and was scared to death.”

By day, Chen feared discovery by police but also by villagers, who wandered in the area.

But the nights were worse, he recalls, as he was often wracked by insomnia.

A feature film beckons, maybe, with Chen as the anti-hero? Certainly, a few moviegoers might pay to see bankers cowering in caves at the moment.

But comments on Chen’s case on Sina Weibo, China’s biggest microblog, have been scathing.

“What’s the use in having 30 million if you have to hide in the forest for eight years?” wrote one, apparently more bothered by Chen’s ineptitude than his criminal behaviour.

Continued the critic: “He should have emigrated abroad earlier. He has no strategic vision, unlike other corrupt officials.”

“The evils we bring on ourselves!” lamented another. “It is useless to spend another cent being corrupt. People in power should think about serving the people honestly. It’s better than escaping, hiding or being sent to prison.”

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