- The Washington Times - Monday, July 14, 2003

BEIJING — An orchid-selling tycoon once ranked by Forbes magazine as China’s second-richest businessman was convicted of fraud and bribery and sentenced yesterday to 18 years in prison, an assistant to his attorney said.

Yang Bin, who was arrested in October soon after being picked by North Korea to run a special economic zone, also was fined $280,000, the official Xinhua news agency said. It said his company was fined $720,000.

The prosecution of Yang, a Chinese-born Dutch citizen, came amid a series of investigations into leading Chinese business figures on tax and other charges.

Yang and his company were convicted on all charges of illegally occupying farmland, contract fraud, bribery and forging financial documents, said the assistant to defense lawyer Tian Wenchang.

Yang plans to appeal, said the assistant, who would give only his surname, also Yang — a common Chinese name.

Yang Bin’s trial lasted three days last month in Shenyang Intermediate People’s Court in the northeastern industrial city of Shenyang, where his Chinese business was based.

A woman who answered the phone at the Shenyang court said she “had no idea” about the sentence and refused further comment. She would give only her family name, Liu.

State television showed Yang, looking wan and dressed in his trademark white polo shirt, standing in court before three judges as the sentence was read.

Though severe by Western standards, his penalty is normal for China, which sometimes executes people convicted of such nonviolent crimes as tax evasion and smuggling, said Joseph Cheng, a political scientist at the City University of Hong Kong.

“I think the Chinese side certainly understands that the world is watching,” Mr. Cheng said.

Yang’s fortune was estimated by Forbes in 2001 at $900 million, but his businesses have shrunk since his arrest.

Yang, 40, was named last year to lead North Korea’s Sinuiju Special Administrative Region, which was touted as an attempt by the communist regime to open up to the outside world and revive its crippled economy.

A chain smoker, Yang was known for his flamboyant lifestyle, travel by private jet and expensive cars. His company, Euro-Asia Agricultural Holdings Ltd., has been building a Dutch-themed real-estate development in Shenyang.

Yang moved to the Netherlands in 1987 and won asylum after the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.

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