Donations for sick girl to be returned

Chinese donors give more than $537k but feel cheated after learning her dad has properties

BEIJING • More than 2.6 million yuan (S$537,000) raised online by a father for his seriously ill daughter will be returned to the donors following a public outcry over his alleged lack of honesty about the family's economic situation.

Five-year-old Luo Yixiao from Shenzhen was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukaemia in September and her condition worsened earlier last month.

Her father, Mr Luo Er, posted a heart-rending story about his daughter on WeChat last Friday, asking for financial help. The post went viral and more than 110,000 people had donated 2.53 million yuan as of Wednesday this week.

Mr Luo, a magazine editor, also agreed to Mr Liu Xiafeng, a former colleague and founder of Xiaotongren, a marketing company specialising in Internet finance, posting his daughter's story on the company's WeChat account on Sunday.

Readers of the post had donated more than 110,000 yuan as of Wednesday. However, it was reported the same day that Mr Luo owns an apartment in Shenzhen and two more properties in neighbouring city Dongguan, which was not mentioned in his plea for help.

Mr Luo confirmed the reports, but told local media that the two apartments cannot be sold at present due to a property rights issue. The reports led to widespread doubt over his claimed inability to finance his daughter's expenses, with many netizens saying their kindness had been taken advantage of.

A joint statement by Mr Luo, Mr Liu, WeChat and Shenzhen Civil Affairs Bureau said that all donations will be returned to the donors.

According to a statement on Wednesday by Shenzhen Children's Hospital, where Yixiao is hospitalised, the girl's medical fees since September have reached about 200,000 yuan, with her family needing to pay about 36,000 yuan and insurance covering more than 80 per cent of the cost.

The girl is in "critical condition" at the moment, and the hospital is working with doctors from Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children on her therapeutic schedule, the statement said.

Mr Liu initially promised that his company would donate 1 yuan for each repost, up to a total of 500,000 yuan. The number of reposts surpassed 500,000.

The firm was accused by netizens of employing the posting of the story as a marketing tool. " I can imagine how much he is suffering. But it is disgraceful for him to ask for money in this way and it has rid me of my compassion, especially as a company is involved," China Daily quoted student Zou Wenzhang, from Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, as saying.

The joint statement did not say how donations received by the company would be dealt with.

In an earlier statement by Mr Luo and Mr Liu on Thursday, they had pledged to use the donations to establish a foundation to help children with leukaemia, given donors' permission, adding that they would apply for financial aid for Yixiao's treatment according to regulations.

Law experts said it is legal to raise money for a relative in difficulty, but added donors have a right to ask for their money back if important facts are "intentionally concealed".

According to data from the Chinese Red Cross Foundation, about 20,000 children in China are diagnosed with leukaemia each year, while the annual income of three-quarters of the families involved is less than 30,000 yuan.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 03, 2016, with the headline 'Donations for sick girl to be returned'. Print Edition | Subscribe