Official whose family owns 31 houses arrested

Updated: 2013-01-15 07:52

By An Baijie (China Daily)

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Whistle-blower allegations lead to downfall of senior civil servant

A former housing administration official whose family once owned 31 houses in Henan province was arrested on suspicion of corruption.

Zhai Zhenfeng, 50, who was director of the housing administration bureau in Erqi district of Zhengzhou, capital of Henan province, was arrested on Sunday night, the people's procuratorate of Zhengzhou announced.

The prosecutor found that Zhai's family once owned as many as 31 houses, of which seven had been sold when the family's assets were exposed by a whistle-blower on the Internet on Dec 26.

The whistle-blower said on his micro blog that Zhai's daughter owns 11 affordable houses and two ID cards. Zhai's daughter, whose homeownership sparked online outrage, was later nicknamed "House Sister" by netizens.

The procuratorate started investigating Zhai on Jan 4 and confirmed some of the charges in the whistle-blowing post online. But it denied the online accusation that the properties in the name of Zhai's daughter were affordable houses.

Zhai ran a real estate company in the name of his brother in law, and his family got 20 houses in a residential community the company developed when it was sold in 2010, of which 11 were in the name of Zhai's daughter.

The other 11 properties owned by Zhai's family were purchased with profits from the family's business, the prosecutor said.

The whistle-blower said that Zhai's family has houses in Beijing and Shanghai, but the prosecutor did not find any family properties in those cities.

The prosecutor found that with the help of Zhai's wife, Li Shuping, who runs a real estate company, two civil servants in the Erqi district's housing administration helped unqualified families buy 27 government-subsidized housing units.

One of the civil servants, named Wang, accepted more than 140,000 yuan ($22,500) in bribes from the sale of six government-subsidized houses to unqualified families, according to the prosecutor.

The local Party's anti-graft agency removed Zhai from his post in September 2011 for a number of disciplinary offenses, including using his political power to seek profit for his family. However, he was not charged at that time, and his family assets did not become publicly known until the whistle-blowing post appeared online last month.

Zhai also violated the country's family planning policy by having a second child in April 1990. Each of his four family members has two residence permits, according to the prosecutor.

The case is still under investigation, with more details - including how the affordable houses were sold - still unclear, the prosecutor said.

A large number of corrupt officials exposed by netizens have been dismissed since the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in November. Newly elected Party chief Xi Jinping vowed to resolve the pressing problem of corruption.

Exposing corruption online has gained momentum, and officials who have extraordinarily large amounts of wealth could easily become the target of netizens, said Zhou Shuzhen, a politics professor at Renmin University of China.

"Housing prices have been rising and become unaffordable for many families in recent years, but many officials possess numerous houses through illegal means, which causes a large income gap and is intolerable to the public," Zhou said.

Cai Bin, an urban management official in Guangdong province who was nicknamed "Uncle House" by netizens, was dismissed from his post in October after online posts exposed that he owned 22 houses.

(China Daily 01/15/2013 page5)