Energy & Resources

It’s the pits

Brewing scandal over ‘missing’ court documents

Miner-w

Shaanxi mining rights at stake

The coal business is often a dirty one, its critics contend. And that is the view again from China this winter as air quality worsens.

Adding to the grim feeling in the air there was another deadly mine collapse in the coal-rich province Shaanxi on January 13, killing at least 21 workers.

But what has really gripped the nation’s attention recently has been the political scandals in Shaanxi. And the dirt-throwing began with a coal mining case that is engulfing the Supreme People’s Court in Beijing.

The case is related to a dispute between the privately-held Kaiqilai Energy and the Shaanxi government-backed Xi’an Institute of Geological and Mineral Exploration over mining rights in a coal project. According to Caixin Weekly the project is worth nearly Rmb380 billion ($56 billion).

We first discussed this long-running legal tussle last year (see WiC399) – indeed the case has gone back and forth through different levels of the Chinese court system since 2006 for retrials and appeals.

In 2011 the case made its way to the Supreme People’s Court and was given to a senior judge named Wang Linling to consider. Then in late 2016, shortly before Wang planned to give his verdict in favour of Kaiqilai, thousands of important case files abruptly disappeared from his chambers.

He reported them missing but he found his superiors strangely indifferent to their disappearance. Suspiciously, security cameras at his office weren’t working on the day the files went missing.

The case remained unreported until Cui Yongyuan – a former talk show host of state broadcaster CCTV who has become a serial whistleblower (Cui’s most explosive expose was on Fan Bingbing’s tax fraud last summer, see WiC427) – drew attention to it on his weibo last month.

At first the Supreme Court denied that documents had gone missing, before admitting to the fact after Cui published extra evidence.

In a series of videos sent to the China Times on December 30 a man believed to be Judge Wang explains how he came under pressure to rule in favour of the state-owned company instead of Kaiqilai and that he was surprised when his superiors didn’t launch an investigation into the disappearance of the case files.

Following the damaging revelations, the Party’s top legal body, the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, said it would investigate the case in tandem with the police and the National Supervisory Commission, the new anti-corruption enforcer set up last year to widen the Party’s graft-fighting power to all government bodies.

The high-level investigation has resulted in the graftbusters’ first big catch this year, as it was announced on Wednesday that Zhao Zhengyong, the Party boss of Shaanxi from 2013 to 2016, was under investigation on suspicion of “serious violations in law and discipline”.

Until his arrest Zhao was deputy chairman of the Internal and Judicial Affairs Committee in the Chinese parliament, the National People’s Congress.

The swoop was foreshadowed by a CCTV documentary last week on another outrageous scandal in Shaanxi. According to CCTV, more than 1,000 buildings, including hundreds of luxury villas, were illegally built in a nature reserve in the Qinling mountains (from around 2008). Some of the villas were decorated with antiques unearthed (again illegally) from the nearby ancient city of Xi’an.

According to Shaanxi Daily, President Xi Jinping, who was born in Shaanxi and launched his sweeping anti-graft campaign in 2012, was fully aware of the situation and the Chinese leader had sent six sets of instructions since 2014 requesting officials in Shaanxi and Xi’an deal with the illegal buildings. But incredibly, Xi’s directives were ignored until last August, when the villas and houses were all demolished. According to Caixin, Zhao looks to have been the most senior official who dared to ignore Xi’s repeated orders and he was also allegedly involved in the controversial court case ongoing with Kaiqilai.

“Shaanxi province has become an epicentre for the corruption crackdown and witnessed the fall of at least eight senior officials over the past few years,” the magazine reported.


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