Tianjin warehouse owners used guanxi to flout rules

Evacuated residents, armed with pictures of damage to their homes, shouting slogans during a rally outside the venue of a government official's news conference in Tianjin yesterday. Around 150 homeowners demanded the government buy back their apartme
Evacuated residents, armed with pictures of damage to their homes, shouting slogans during a rally outside the venue of a government official's news conference in Tianjin yesterday. Around 150 homeowners demanded the government buy back their apartments, arguing that they did not receive proper compensation after last week's devastating explosions.PHOTO: REUTERS

Son of ex-police chief and others hid stakes in firm, got permits using connections

BEIJING • The owners of a Chinese hazardous goods storage facility at the centre of the giant explosions in Tianjin - including the son of a former police chief - hid their stakes in the firm through friends, state media reported yesterday.

Ten executives from Tianjin Rui Hai International were detained after last week's blasts, which killed at least 114 people and have sparked fears of toxic pollutants in the city's air and water, though the authorities have insisted both are safe.

The official Xinhua news agency, given access to some suspects, quoted them extensively, as the authorities tried to pin the blame for the disaster on local officials and individuals, and head off wider criticism of China's one-party state.

Mr Dong Shexuan, 34, the son of the port's former police chief, owned 45 per cent of Rui Hai through a schoolmate. The rest was owned by Mr Yu Xuewei, a former executive at state-owned chemical firm Sinochem, but held in the name of a friend, it said.

"I had my schoolmate hold shares for me because of my father," Xinhua quoted Mr Dong as saying.

Around 700 tonnes of highly toxic sodium cyanide was stored at the site, officials have said. Mr Dong used his connections in the police and fire departments to help the firm obtain the necessary permits and pass inspections, Xinhua said.

"My guanxi (connections) are in police and fire. When we needed a fire inspection, I went to meet with officials at the Tianjin port fire squad. I gave them the files and soon they gave me the appraisal," Mr Dong said.

Tianjin Rui Hai International Logistics operated without a licence for nine months to June.

"After the first licence expired, we applied for an extension," Xinhua quoted Mr Yu as saying. "We did not cease operations because we did not think it was a problem. Many other companies have continued working without a licence."

Chinese law requires hazardous chemical warehouses to be at least 1km from public buildings, major roads and residential areas.

The Rui Hai warehouse violated the rule as there are housing blocks and a train station within 650m of it, Xinhua said, but Mr Dong and his partners found an appraisal company that ignored the facts.

A corruption investigation into the head of China's work safety watchdog has been announced in the wake of the blasts.

Residents evacuated from their homes after last week's explosions took part in a rally yesterday outside the venue of a government official's news conference.

Around 150 homeowners shouted slogans demanding the government buy back their apartments, arguing that they did not receive proper compensation for their destroyed homes.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 20, 2015, with the headline 'Tianjin warehouse owners used guanxi to flout rules'. Print Edition | Subscribe