China's state-run TV airs confession of asset management firm exec arrested over $1 billion fraud

Investors gather at the office of Shanghai investment firm Zhongjin Capital Management in Shanghai, China, on April 7, 2016.
Investors gather at the office of Shanghai investment firm Zhongjin Capital Management in Shanghai, China, on April 7, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

SHANGHAI (AFP) - The alleged mastermind of a scam that cost Chinese investors hundreds of millions of dollars lived in a penthouse flat featuring peacocks and fountains, reports said on Monday (May 16) after he was paraded on television confessing.

Xu Qin, described as the "controller" of Zhongjin Asset Management and its linked companies, was among 35 executives and employees formally arrested last week in connection with the scheme, state-run Dragon Television reported at the weekend.

It owes more than half its 25,000 investors a total of 5.2 billion yuan (S$1 billion) said the broadcaster, which is based in the commercial hub.

Xu, 35, was shown saying that the firm "paid back previous investors' principal and interest with money from new investors".

"It is actually a typical Ponzi scheme," he admitted.

He squandered around 500 million yuan of investors' money on luxury houses and cars with his wife, the report alleged.

It was the latest example of a suspect being shown on Chinese state television confessing to crimes, often before he or she has appeared in court.

Overseas rights groups have condemned the practice and say the interviews may be carried out under duress, with some senior Chinese lawyers also expressing concern.

Xu and his wife rented a 1,200 sq m (13,000 sq ft) penthouse at one of China's most expensive developments, Tomson Riviera in Shanghai, where he raised peacocks and built fountains in his living room, state-run newspaper Jiefang Daily reported on Monday.

The case is the latest financial fraud to emerge as China's economy slows. In a recent scandal, peer-to-peer lending firm Ezubao bilked 900,000 investors out of US$7.6 billion (S$10.4 billion) by offering high interest rates which it was unable to pay, in what one executive described in a televised confession as a "typical Ponzi scheme".

Police in Shanghai could not be reached for comment on Xu's confession, but previously said he registered more than 50 subsidiaries and controlled 100 linked companies.

Xu was detained with other executives at an airport in Shanghai last month as he attempted to fly to Italy on an chartered aircraft, according to previous reports.