Over the last year, Chinese President Xi Jinping has made it his personal mission to tackle the historically rampant corruption in China. President Xi has been targeting what he calls "flies" (lower-ranking government officials) as well as "tigers" (higher-ranking, senior officials) within the ruling political party. This weekend, President Xi's top anti-corruption prosecutor confirmed long-whispered rumors of a tiger that was caught back in May. The prosecutor also confirmed what many people believed was a too-good-to-be-true rumor about the absolutely shocking amount of money that was discovered hidden in this doomed tiger's home…
Xi Jinping is technically the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, the President of the People's Republic of China and the Chairman of the Central Military Commission. That's sort of the same as President Obama being President of the United States as well as Commander in Chief, if he was also the head of the Democratic Party and if there was only one political party in the US. Xi assumed the office of President on November 15, 2012 (roughly a week after Barack Obama won his second term). Prior to being promoted to China's Politburo Standing Committee (a seven person committee made up of the Communist Party's most powerful leaders, Xi Jinping served as Governor of the eastern coastal province of Zhejiang. As Governor, he was known for promoting a very tough, but straight forward policy towards corrupt officials.
After being promoted to President, Xi vowed to continue his crusade against corruption "at the highest levels" in order to give average citizens "better education, more stable jobs, better income, medical care…and a more beautiful environment".
People who thought Jinping wasn't going to actually take corruption seriously were wrong. Very wrong. In the first 10 months of 2014 alone, China has arrested, prosecuted and sentenced over 13,000 officials who were guilty of some form of corruption or bribery. He has even targeted the Vice-Chairman and the Security Chief of China's parliament. Because of these prosecutions, Chinese political officials are committing suicide at alarmingly high rate. Since 2013, at least 62 public officials have died from "unnatural" circumstances. Of those, 32 have been confirmed as suicides. And those are just the officially confirmed deaths.
When a "fly" is sentenced, China makes the announcement on a weekday. "Tiger" announcements are released on Saturday mornings, so people have several days to absorb the news. And unlike in the US where a corrupt white-collar criminal gets probation, or maybe spends a year at a country-club prison, China literally executes its worst offenders. Just a few weeks ago, on October 17, a Chinese rail official was found guilty of taking $7.7 million worth of bribes from companies looking to secure construction contracts, over an 11-year period. Not only was the rail official sentenced to death, all of his immediate family's property was forfeited to the state.
That's just one of many many many recent examples. Another example, involving a senior energy official named Wei Pengyuan, has sparked some seriously wild rumors ever since his arrest was first reported back in May. As the former head of the National Energy Administration's coal department, Mr. Pengyuan was in charge of approving coal mine projects all over the world. Considering the importance of coal to China's economy, it was an exceptionally high-powered position.
The most eyebrow-raising rumor was that anti-corruption officials found $10 million in cash at Wei Pengyuan's house. Then rumors began to raise the stakes. Soon, rumor had it that 100 million renminbi (RMB literally translates to "People's currency") was found in his house. That would be worth approximately $16 million US dollars. Several Chinese newspapers calculated that 100 million renminbi would weigh more than a ton. So a Chinese official literally stole a ton of cash. The headlines seemed too good to be true, which led many people to speculate that they were in fact, not true at all.
On Saturday morning, China finally confirmed two very important aspects of the Wei Pengyuan case. First, the anti-corruption prosecutor officially confirmed that Wei Pengyuan was indeed arrested back in May, and is currently under investigation for corruption. Second, the anti-corruption prosecutor officially confirmed the amount of money that agents discovered hidden in Wei Pengyuan's house.
So how much was the total cash haul? Was it the $10 million that Chinese news outlets first reported? Nope. Was it the $16 million that made for the perfect "ton of cash" headlines? Nope.
Try $32 million. In cash.
That's 200 million RMB. So a Chinese officially literally stole TWO tons worth of cash. Technically, 2.3 tons. To give you an idea of how much money we are talking about, if you stacked the RMB in one column, it would reach 656 feet high. That would be 2/3 the height of the Eiffel Tower.
We're talking about so much cash that anti-corruption agents needed 16 mechanical bill counters to tabulate it all. And of those 16 money counters, four burned out during the process.
I guess it's kind of hard to deposit $32 million into a bank account when your official annual salary is less than $50,000. For comparison, consider the fact that President Xi's salary is a meager $19,000, and the average salary in China is just $4600. Something tells me that Mr. Pengyuan's future is not looking so great…