BEIJING (CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - A woman who was once hailed as a philanthropist and a "love mother" for adopting 118 children, has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for multiple crimes including manipulating children to serve her own purposes.
Li Yanxia, who uses the pseudonym Li Lijuan, has also been fined 2.67 million yuan (S$531,000), according to a court statement in Wu'an city, in northern China's Hebei province, on Wednesday (July 24).
Fifteen accomplices, including her boyfriend Xu Qi, were collectively sentenced to between one and 13 years for their crimes, the Wu'an People's Court said.
Li, 49, first shot to fame in 2006 after the Chinese media reported about her adoption of dozens of children in her home town of Wu'an. She had claimed that she spent millions of yuan raising the children, orphans or abandoned, in the city's Baijiazhuang village since 1996.
Her story helped her earn recognition as one of 10 major personalities in Hebei province in 2006.
She founded a private welfare house in December 2007. The number of children under her care reached 118 in 2017.
Over the past 21 years, Li received large sums in donations, which formed the major source of funding for her welfare house, cnr.cn reported.
Li reportedly blackmailed 70,000 yuan from a company that needed to pass a fiber-optic cable above her welfare house, and nearly 300,000 yuan from a hotel and a hospital.
Local police also found that Li was suspected of using adopted children to siege township governments and intimidate officials.
She was also found to own several houses in Wuan, Handan in Hebei province.
In May 2018, the local authorities put her under criminal detention over multiple charges including manipulating children to hinder construction work - by making them run under trucks so construction could not continue- and blackmailing construction companies.
A document provided by the Wu'an People's Court to Li's lawyer shows the charges against Li and her accomplices include disturbing social order, forging company seals, blackmailing, fraud, duty encroachment, intentional injury and harbouring criminals.
Previous media reports said the police had frozen her personal bank accounts - as many as 45 - with total deposits worth more than 20 million yuan.
There were 74 children left in the village when she was detained, and the local government has taken over them.