Being on the bottom rung of the Chinese Communist Party’s nationwide ruling apparatus doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. That’s the message that seems to be emerging in the investigation of village official Ji Haiyi, who was the local Party chief of Sunhe Town, and happened to procure for himself the vast sum of 90 million yuan ($14.6 million) over about six years of service.
More surprising about the case is that Sunhe is part of the Chaoyang district of China’s capital, Beijing. That Ji Haiyi was able to embezzle, or receive from bribes, such a large amount of money was seen as indicative of the extent of corruption problems in China.
The investigation of Ji was announced on Sept. 19 by the Beijing Municipal Commission for Discipline Inspection, the Party’s anticorruption taskforce.
Back in July, Wang Qishan, the Party’s anticorruption chief, said that village Party officials in Beijing had serious problems, according to the Beijing Morning Post.
A pro-Beijing newspaper in Hong Kong, Wen Wei Po, cited an anticorruption official saying that 56 village-level Party officials are being punished for serious violations of discipline.
Legal Evening News reported that in addition to Ji Haiyi, Chen Wanshou, an accountant in a village in the Haidian District of Beijing also illegally diverted 119 million yuan ($19.3 million) for his personal use. There was also Yuan Xueqin, former director of a village economic management center at Jiuxian Town in Beijing, who embezzled 2.4 million yuan ($390,835).
The problem is not new to Beijing, though. In 2009 the committee chief at Kang Ying Village, Sunhe Town, Beijing, was found to have stolen 189 million yuan ($30.7 million) from the fund for compensating residents who have their houses demolished.
Though village officials rank low in the Party’s hierarchy, they hold enormous power—land inspections, housing demolitions, compensation, and granting permission to open businesses—all can be decided by a single village chief.
According to Beijing News, there were 171 cases involving a total of up to 2.2 billion yuan ($358.2 million) where village officials had engaged in corruption since 2013; 12 of the cases involved amounts greater than 10 million yuan ($1.63 million).
“Many village officials, especially those at the top, all have political ties, and ties to local gangsters. Local residents dare not to speak up,” said one Internet user who called himself “Mr. Wang Loves Eating Fish.”
“That single village has more money than our bank. Every level of officials should be investigated and punished,” another Internet user said.
“A tiny official got 90 million yuan. I wonder how much money higher-ranking officials have gotten away with?” wrote “Hui Hui Jun.” “All the capillaries are corrupt—imagine the body of the giant.”