China arrests chairman of world's largest tin producer over bribes

BEIJING (REUTERS) - Chinese authorities have arrested and charged the chairman of the world's largest producer of refined tin, Yunnan Tin Co, for accepting bribes, a provincial government said, in the latest example of the country's crackdown on graft.

President Xi Jinping has made fighting corruption a key plank of his new administration, saying the problem is so severe it could affect the ruling Communist Party's survival.

Yunnan Tin chairman Lei Yi had been charged with taking 20 million yuan (S$4 million) in bribes from four people, the Yunnan government said on one of its official websites, including from the chairman of a company called Leed International Education Group in which Goldman Sachs has a stake. Goldman Sachs declined to comment.

The Yunnan government website said Lei had taken money from Leed's chairman Li Hongtao to help smooth the way for Leed to buy Yunnan Tin's 45 per cent stake in a private college which both companies had set up in 2009.

The tin company is based in the southwestern province of Yunnan.

The website report made no mention of Goldman Sachs, saying simply that Leed was co-founded by a "foreign investment group".

A person familiar with the matter said that Goldman Sachs'private equity arm signed an agreement with Li in 2008, in a deal worth under $70 million that ultimately formed Leed.

An official at Yunnan Tin said the company had not received any legal documents about Lei's case and the company was still trying to confirm the details.

For now, Lei was still chairman and the legal representative for the company, the official said, adding that production and sales had not been affected.

Yunnan Tin said on July 6 that Lei's corporate duties had been assumed by a deputy as Lei was under investigation for "serious discipline violations", a phrase normally used to describe corruption.

An executive at Leed's public relations department in Beijing, who gave her family name as Wang, said the education company would not comment on the matter and was unable to provide contact details for Li.

Yunnan Tin had output of around 70,000 tonnes of refined tin last year, nearly double the number 2 producer, Malaysia Smelting Corp Bhd.

Chinese authorities have announced the investigation or arrest of a handful of senior officials this year, and probes have begun to reach into powerful state-owned industries.

Among them, former executives from oil giant PetroChina are being investigated in what appears to be the biggest graft probe into a state-run firm in years.

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