China has a long history of alchemy, with the first of the imperial edicts promising death to gold counterfeiters dating back to 144 BC. Yet the practice is alive and well in the province of Shaanxi, according to a story in Caixin about a rural banking cooperative that made a shocking discovery.
According to an ongoing court case farmers in Tongguan had been borrowing money for years against gold ‘found’ in the local mountains. But when one of them defaulted on a loan in 2016, the bank melted down his bars to find that they were only a third made up of the precious metal. In the audit that followed, bank bosses realised they had lent billions of yuan against 46 tonnes of fake gold. The ringleader of the fraud, a man called Zhang Qingmin, had found a way to adulterate the gold with tungsten, which has a similar weight. He alone took out loans of more than Rmb8 billion ($1.13 billion), sending much of the cash overseas. That showed some foresight: he fled the country once the scam was revealed and is now on the run in Portugal. Twelve other people have been tried and are currently awaiting the court’s verdict.
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