And Finally

A just crime?

How corrupt officials got exposed by burglars

Robin Hood w

Wang Shengli’s inspiration?

In 2012 three economists published Robbing Banks: Crime Does Pay – But Not Very Much. It argued that bank robbers should find another job. The average bank robbery in the US netted just over $4,000, the authors found. A large percentage of the robbers were arrested too.

Criminal masterminds in China have turned to more lucrative avenues than robbing banks – namely, stealing from corrupt government officials. In August, two women convicted thiefs in Jiangsu province confessed that they mainly targeted bureaucrats because they are known to hoard wads of cash at home. (Investigators needed 16 counting machines to tally up the haul of one disgraced official earlier this year, see WiC240.)

They make attractive prey: first because they avoid putting their bribe money into banks to evade detection; and second, because they aren’t likely to report the theft of their stash, knowing unwelcome questions might follow.

Tang Shuiyan, one of the thieves, said she had been stealing from government offices since 2006. It was a lucrative trade. After each heist municipal offices soon refilled with gifts, coupons and cash (although Tang said that there has been less on offer since the nationwide anti-graft campaign was launched in late 2012).

In early September, news broke of another robber in Henan province who again claimed only to burgle bureaucrats’ luxury homes. The Beijing News reported that Wang Shengli and his gang were finally caught in late 2012 (in their car police found cash, six gold bars and 40 pieces of jade).

Under interrogation, Wang said the gang made more than Rmb3 million ($489,000) burgling four residences in 2011 and 2012, of which Rmb1 million – all cash – was taken from the home of Zhengyang county’s Party boss, Zhao Xinghua.

However, in the police report, Zhao claimed that just Rmb6,000 was taken from the break-in. Similarly, Wang broke into the home of another official in Henan, taking over Rmb800,000 in cash. But the police filing showed that the victim reported only Rmb1,300 was stolen.

After further investigation, it was discovered that the officials had also been colluding with the police to cover up the amounts involved, aware that such large sums far exceeded their pay grades.

That explains why Wang’s arrest for theft only made the news more recently, following Zhao’s detention for graft (several police officers were also arrested, reports Legal Evening News).

Wang and his gang are now awaiting their own trial. They are hoping that by exposing the corrupt officials, they could get lighter sentences. And indeed, some netizens have praised them as modern-day Robin Hoods. The comparison is not quite accurate, for while they did rob from the (improperly) rich, they did not pass the proceeds on to the poor…

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