China official suspended over unpaid bills of $142,000 at pig trotter restaurant

BEIJING (AFP) - A Chinese Communist Party official has been suspended after running up unpaid bills of US$115,000 (S$142,000) at a speciality pig trotter restaurant, reports said on Monday.

Mr Han Junhong, the party secretary in Wangluo in the poor central province of Henan, racked up the 700,450 yuan account with a series of banquets over three years, the Global Times said, adding the establishment was the designated venue for official functions in the town.

Restaurant owner Geng Weijie - whose signature dish was a braised forelimb with brown sauce - was forced to close his doors because of the cash shortfall, and resorted to hanging red banners outside to shame Mr Han into paying up.

"I am seriously ill, I have a small child, and my family has debts to pay," the Beijing News quoted Mr Geng, 42, as saying.

The case provoked a storm of criticism on China's wildly popular weibo microblogging platforms - where cases of local officials' corruption have been exposed in the past - and the bill was paid the next day, an investigation launched and Mr Han suspended, the Global Times said.

The case is the latest example of runaway spending among Chinese officials amid an austerity push - including guidelines of "four dishes and a soup" for banquets - launched by the central government in the face of rising public anger at official corruption.

But high-profile examples of wasteful spending persist.

Earlier this month, reports of a giant, 70 million yuan (S$14.2 million) puffer fish statue being built in the eastern province of Jiangsu triggered a storm of criticism online.