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China jails fallen flower baron for 18 years

Beijing, July 14 (Reuters): China jailed a fallen flower baron once listed as the country’s second-richest man for 18 years today for commercial crimes in a case underscoring the precarious position of China’s entrepreneurial elite.

The guilty verdict brought to a close a dramatic reversal of fortune for Yang Bin, the orchid-growing Dutch national detained last year just days after North Korea named him head of a planned free-trade enclave on the Chinese border.

It also coincided with a brewing corruption scandal over improper loans in Shanghai that has cast a cloud over the empire of detained property tycoon Zhou Zhengyi.

“They sentenced him to 18 years,” Yang’s lawyer, Tian Wenchang, said after hearing the Shenyang intermediate court in the northeastern industrial hub pronounce the verdict. “They basically convicted him on all counts,” the lawyer said.

The official Xinhua news agency said Yang had been convicted of contract fraud, forging financial instruments, bribery and illegally occupying and using farm land. He was also fined 2.3 million yuan ($278,000).

Yang, chairman of Hong Kong-listed Euro-Asia Agricultural (Holdings) Co Ltd, remained defiant.

Tian said he had filed an appeal on Yang’s behalf. “He disagreed with the verdict,” the lawyer said.

The 40-year-old was ranked as China’s second-richest man by Forbes magazine in 2001 with an estimated fortune of $900 million. He became the first of several high-ranking tycoons to run foul of the law since last year, when the communist party invited the new capitalist rich to join their ranks in November.

His trial came as Shanghai authorities investigated Zhou — the city’s richest man — and the recently recalled head of the Bank of China’s Hong Kong arm, Liu Jinbao. A string of scandals has affected high-profile entrepreneurs who rapidly amassed fortunes in the 1990s, working their political connections in the margins where business interests intertwine with those of bureaucrats.

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