- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 27, 2008

BEIJING (AP) - China has executed a businessman convicted of bilking thousands of investors out of $416 million in a bogus ant-breeding scheme, state media reported Thursday.

The official Xinhua News Agency said Wang Zhendong, who was found guilty of fraud and sentenced to death in February last year, was executed in north China’s Liaoning province on Wednesday.

The death penalty is used broadly in China. Though usually reserved for violent crimes, it is also applied for nonviolent offenses that involve large sums of money or if they are seen to threaten social order.

Wang, chairman of Yingkou Donghua Trading Group Co., had promised returns of up to 60 percent for investors who purchased ant-breeding kits from two companies he ran. Ants are used in some traditional Chinese medicinal remedies, which can fetch a high price. Wang sold the kits, which cost $25, for $1,300, local media reported earlier.

Wang attracted more than 10,000 investors between 2002 and June 2005, when investigators shut down his companies. The closure of his business set off a panic among small-time players who saw their life savings disappear overnight.

Xinhua reported earlier that one investor committed suicide after realizing he had been duped. Investigators put the size of the fraud at $416 million. Only $1.28 million was recovered.

Fake investments and pyramid investment schemes have become common during China’s transition from a planned economy to a free market. Chinese leaders have tried to eradicate the scams, fearing widespread losses could add to already percolating social unrest.

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