China po­lice ar­rest 230 over pyra­mid scheme

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Chi­nese po­lice have ar­rested 230 mem­bers of a sus­pected pyra­mid scheme, a week af­ter a rare demon­stra­tion in Bei­jing protest­ing a crack­down on the group. The scheme, known as Shanx­in­hui or “phil­an­thropic ex­change”, is un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion and the group’s founder Zhang Tian­ming, along with sev­eral em­ploy­ees, was ar­rested ear­lier this month. But in an un­usual dis­play of pub­lic dis­obe­di­ence, hun­dreds of pro­test­ers af­fil­i­ated with the scheme gath­ered in the cap­i­tal Bei­jing last Mon­day and 67 of them were de­tained.

Pho­tos and videos on so­cial me­dia showed a large group chant­ing slo­gans and hold­ing red ban­ners urg­ing Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping to stop the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the group, which they de­scribed as a le­git­i­mate plat­form be­ing “per­se­cuted”. Protests of such size are rare in Bei­jing, where rul­ing Com­mu­nist party has lit­tle tol­er­ance for pub­lic demon­stra­tions and is par­tic­u­larly sen­si­tive to ac­tiv­ity in the coun­try’s cap­i­tal.

On Sun­day, the Guang­dong pub­lic se­cu­rity bureau said on its of­fi­cial so­cial me­dia ac­count that 230 mem­bers of the scheme had been ar­rested, with 142 fac­ing crim­i­nal charges. It added that 55 com­pa­nies sus­pected of in­volve­ment in the scheme have been put un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion, and pledged to “main­tain the high pres­sure crack­down”. Shanx­in­hui is “the Falun Gong of a new era,” one so­cial me­dia user said Mon­day, re­fer­ring to the banned re­li­gious group that has been bru­tally sup­pressed by the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment for nearly two decades af­ter it staged a ma­jor protest in Bei­jing’s cen­tre.

Shanx­in­hui reg­is­tered as a busi­ness par­tak­ing in “cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties” in the south­ern metropo­lis of Shen­zhen in 2013, Chi­nese lan­guage pub­li­ca­tion The Paper cited gov­ern­ment records as stat­ing. Its of­fi­cial Weibo mi­croblog ac­count has blank since last week, with no posts shown, and its web­site is not ac­ces­si­ble. A cached ver­sion of the web­site de­scribed the or­ga­ni­za­tion as an eq­uity in­vest­ment group founded in 2013 that pro­motes causes such as forestry con­ser­va­tion and poverty al­le­vi­a­tion.

As of June, as many as 2.3 mil­lion par­tic­i­pants had not re­ceived a pay-out in the scheme in­volv­ing bil­lions of yuan, ac­cord­ing to Chi­nese state broad­caster China Na­tional Ra­dio. Founder Zhang and the em­ploy­ees were ar­rested on charges of de­fraud­ing “a huge amount of prop­erty” from vic­tims “un­der the guise of ‘help­ing the poor and achiev­ing com­mon wealth’”, ac­cord­ing to a po­lice state­ment. Pyra­mid schemes have be­come in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar in China in re­cent years, with pro­mo­tional ma­te­rial spread­ing rapidly on so­cial me­dia net­works. Po­lice in­ves­ti­gated 2,826 pyra­mid scheme cases in 2016, nearly 20 per­cent more than in 2015, ac­cord­ing to the Min­istry of Pub­lic Se­cu­rity. — AFP

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