Millions in cash hidden in Chinese ex-banker's home

BEIJING • The former chairman of one of China's bad banks has confessed to taking millions of yuan in bribes which he kept in metal cabinets in a Beijing apartment he nicknamed "the supermarket".

Lai Xiaomin, the former head of China Huarong Asset Management, has been charged with corruption, taking bribes and bigamy in one of the country's biggest financial corruption cases.

On Monday, he confessed in a state TV documentary that he preferred cash payments and said he would drive trunk-loads of bills to the apartment, where more than 200 million yuan (S$40 million) had been uncovered.

"I got the money and just left it there, just like making regular trips to the supermarket," he said. "I didn't spend a cent. It's all confiscated in the end."

Detained in 2018, Lai is accused of taking 1.65 billion yuan in bribes, people familiar with the matter have said. He was also found to own a large number of properties, luxury watches, cars, gold and art collections.

Lai oversaw Huarong from 2012 till he ran into trouble in 2018. It was one of four companies set up in 1999 to help clean up a banking system riddled with bad debt.

The state-owned enterprise held a US$2.5 billion (S$3.4 billion) initial share sale in 2015, giving it a market value of more than US$15 billion. Its Hong Kong shares are now worth less than half of that.

Under Lai, the lender's business was expanded into securities, trusts, investments and futures, deviating from its mandate of disposing of bad loans.

The former head of its international operation said Lai only cared about short-term profit and invested heavily in high-risk assets such as properties and stocks.

He also created a culture of nepotism by hiring people from Jiangxi, his home province, even snatching the chef at Huarong from his home region, according to the television documentary.

China's central bank has said that Lai's "shocking" activities caused severe losses for the state, undermining both financial security and stability. State media calls him the nation's most corrupt financial official.

Lai had previously worked at the central bank and China's banking regulator.

Confessions such as Lai's are becoming a more common ritual as President Xi Jinping tightens his grip on the nation.

A slew of officials have been caught up in the dragnet, including Yang Jiacai, a former assistant vice-chairman at China Banking Regulatory Commission; Yao Gang, who was vice-chairman of China Securities Regulatory Commission; and Wu Xiaohui, who oversaw Anbang Insurance Group.

They were all sentenced to at least 16 years in prison.

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 15, 2020, with the headline 'Millions in cash hidden in Chinese ex-banker's home'. Print Edition | Subscribe