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Swindlers fool Chinese with air of politically connected

BEIJING — He had the swagger and the trappings of a senior party member and a natural authority that made him hard to contradict.

The walls of his office in the heart of the Chinese capital were adorned with photographs of him next to government and military officials. He drove a top-of-the-line Mercedes-Benz and, in his 50s, had an 18-year-old mistress.

But Li Guangnian was not quite as he seemed. In a country that has perfected the art of imitation, such as fake iPhones, Li was just another copy: a fake official with a fake organization peddling a false promise — of credibility and contacts, people who worked with him said.

All over China, a country where the bureaucracy fills almost every available space with a myriad of organizations, and where unimaginable sums of money can be made if you just know the right people, growing ranks of swindlers are peddling an illusion of the ultimate currency — influence with the political elite.

Some demand bribes in return for favors that are never granted; others pose as central government officials and are treated like kings by sycophantic local officials. A Chinese credit rating group recently identified more than 100 phony organizations linked to such impostors.

Qiao Xinsheng, a professor at Zhongnan University of Economics and Law, said that for centuries China has been an excessively centralized state, where emperors would dispatch envoys to far-flung corners of their lands to exercise their power.

“This provides fertile soil for political swindlers. There is an information asymmetry that they take advantage of, to swagger and deceive people,” he said.

In 2012, a television station in eastern China aired an expose of one of Li’s franchise operations. Using a hidden camera, it showed a member of the Shandong branch of the Dynamic Investigation Committee offering government identity cards for sale. The cards were supposedly issued by the National Bureau of Statistics and instructed “military and government organs, enterprises and public institutions to please grant convenience and assistance to this cardholder.”

The cards were on sale for $1,300 each and would entitle the holder to low-interest loans, the man said, boasting to the undercover reporter that the organization had 50 million members. After the expose was aired, the branch was closed and its leader jailed for eight years, media reports stated.


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