Over $1 billion stolen in China's low-cost housing programme

BEIJING (AFP) - China's affordable housing programme lost nearly US$1 billion to embezzlement last year, the national auditor reported on Friday, underscoring the obstacles to official efforts to fight graft.

About 5.8 billion yuan (S$1.1 billion) went towards "loan repayment, foreign investment, land requisition and house demolitions, office cash flow and other expenses not related to affordable-housing projects", the National Audit Office said on its website.

A total of 360 projects or organisations "embezzled" the funds, it said.

Housing costs - which have spiralled in recent years despite government controls - have become a sensitive issue as ordinary Chinese find themselves struggling to afford a home.

China plans to build 36 million affordable-housing units from 2011 to 2015 and the programme received almost 880 billion yuan last year, the audit office said, constructing 5.9 million units and assisting 9.5 million families.

But 110,000 families produced false documents to qualify for assistance unfairly, it added.

The state news agency Xinhua warned at the start of the year that tackling corruption in the affordable housing programme was "increasingly urgent".

"Many Chinese have become extremely sensitive to skyrocketing housing prices and any mishandling of housing resources," it said in an editorial.

House prices averaged 10,300 yuan per square metre in July, according to the independent China Index Academy, up 7.9 per cent year-on-year, an acceleration from 7.4 per cent in June.

China's new leadership took office in March pledging to work harder to root out graft and improve people's livelihoods.

Among the spate of scandals exposed in their anti-corruption campaign in recent months, several low-ranking officials have been reported to own multiple homes, sometimes in the dozens.

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