Chinese Communist Party cadres are capable of embezzling huge sums of money—but how do they store it?
As the funds are illicit, officials know better than to save the money in banks, so they've become very creative in how they hide their stash.
The topic surfaced when a piece of news recently went viral in China. In Harbin City, in the northernmost Heilongjiang Province, a local resident who was renovating his house discovered loads of cash hidden in the walls. The previous homeowner had stowed away 140 million yuan (about $21.7 million), leading many netizens to assume he was a corrupt official.
Local authorities quelled the internet rumors by claiming that the money was connected to a scam case that local police were investigating.
But netizens may not be far off the mark, as officials have been caught secretly hoarding their spoils.
Last September, the Chinese Communist Party’s anti-corruption agency, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, partnered with state broadcaster CCTV to air a special segment on corruption. It revealed how a Party cadre and former chairman of Chinese carmaker FAW Group, Xu Jianyi, hid his valuables in order to escape from the authorities. He placed his watches and gold bars inside tea canisters and tried to hide in a tree in his villa when he learned that the agency was coming for him.
There are many more examples reported by Chinese media. A corrupt deputy commissioner in Mengyin County, Shandong Province, pilfered 5.58 million yuan (about $867,000) of public funds and spread out the money among 37 different banks. He kept his bank books hidden under the soil of his garden.
Meanwhile, the deputy head of a factory in Tianjin stuffed his embezzled cash in between mirrors, in the refrigerator, and in rice storage containers. His Rolex watches were stored in boxes of vermicelli noodles in his warehouse.
Another crooked official in the construction department of Jiangsu Province placed his wallets in tree holes, in his rice fields, underneath roof tiles, and even underneath manure piles.
Those who can’t find good hiding places create them. The highway bureau chief of Ganzhou City in Jiangxi Province, Li Guoyu, got someone to customize butane gas canisters that he could pack cash into. These canisters can even be used normally—all the better to evade scrutiny.
Others choose to rent or buy entire houses for the sole purpose of storing money. In Hohhot City, Inner Mongolia, the deputy chief of the railway bureau, Ma Junfei, bought residences in Beijing and Hohhot to store 88 million yuan (about $13.6 million), $4.19 million, 300,000 euros (about $367,000), 270,000 Hong Kong dollars (about $34,500), and 43.3 kilograms—roughly 95 pounds—of gold (worth nearly $2 million).
When the chair of the Party’s advisory body, the Political Consultative Conference, in Guangdong Province Zhu Minguo was investigated in November 2014, central authorities found large amounts of cash and gold in his villa in Wuzhishan City, Hainan Province. There was enough to fill about a dozen cars. Some of the cash had been hidden for so long that it had become moldy.
Other officials find ways to transfer the money out of the country and out of sight. In 2014, China Economic Weekly, a publication run by state mouthpiece The People’s Daily, cited a researcher at Peking University from the “Building Honest Politics Research Center,” who estimated that more than 10,000 officials have escaped abroad, and the total cash they have taken with them amounted to about one trillion yuan (around $155 billion).