After a social-media expose, China’s Supreme People’s Court, the country’s highest court, has confirmed that in 2016, it lost a set of important files related to a complex civil lawsuit, but failed to report the loss to police.
Cui Yongyuan, a well-known TV talk-show host in China, said in a Dec. 29 post on Sina Weibo, a Twitter-like social-media platform, that a judge in the civil division of the Supreme People’s Court discovered that files related to a mining company’s contract dispute in Shaanxi Province were stolen from his office. Cui didn’t indicate how he came to know the information.
After Cui’s post began circulating, the court issued a statement on Weibo denying Cui’s claims. But by that evening, the court acknowledged the disappearance and said it would investigate the incident.
On Dec. 30, the state-run China Times newspaper published a video, in which the civil division judge, Wang Linqing, explained how he lost the files.
“I want to protect myself from being mistreated, so I am using this video as evidence,” Wang said in the video.
Wang confirmed that the files related to the Shaanxi mining case, which dates back to 2003 and was closed in 2018.
“When I opened my cabinet and wanted to take out the first and second set of trial files for drafting the verdict, I suddenly discovered that the first set was there, but the second one disappeared.”
Wang said that it was possible that he would be fired due to the loss, but he couldn’t locate the files in his office. Then, he asked Cheng Xinwen, the chief judge at the civil division, for help.
“Our court installed many surveillance cameras in each floor of the office building. There’s one just outside my office, and another one at in the end of the hallway. There are two cameras that can monitor [the entrance of my office],” Wang said.
However, Cheng told him that the day that the files went missing, the surveillance cameras had malfunctioned and didn’t record anything, despite having been recently installed. Wang suspects that the cameras had been tampered with.
In a Dec. 30 Weibo post, Cui wrote: “The supreme court didn’t report the incident to the police after the trial documents were lost in its office, and the surveillance cameras didn’t record anything. How could the litigants’ interests be protected?”
Cui also said that the court passed a verdict after rewriting the case files.
BBC Chinese reported that in 2009, the Shaanxi provincial government wrote a formal letter to the supreme court, asking that it overturn the previous verdict—which had ruled in favor of a private company over a state-run one.
A Complicated Case
The Shaanxi case is famous in China, not only because the case involved 380 billion yuan ($55.24 billion) in sought damages, but also because of the political interests involved.
In 2003, the state-run Xi’an City Geological and Mineral Exploration and Development Institute (XGMEDI) signed an agreement with Kechley Energy Investment Company (Kechley), which is based in Yulin, Shaanxi Province, to explore and develop a local coal mine named Boluo-Hongshiqiao.
In 2005, with funding from Kechley, XGMEDI discovered the coal reserves of the mine were 1.9 billion metric tons, with a value of about 380 billion yuan. But the provincial branch of the National Development and Reform Commission didn’t approve the project due to Kechley’s lack of a factory to process the coal.
XGMEDI informed Kechley that it couldn’t carry out its previous agreement, and signed a new agreement with Hong Kong-based Yik-Yip, to develop the mine in 2006.
In May 2006, Kechley filed a lawsuit against XGMEDI alleging breach of contract. Five months later, the Shaanxi High People’s Court ruled in favor of Kechley, saying the agreement between Kechley and XGMEDI was still in effect. XGMEDI was ordered to pay Kechley 276 million yuan, and transfer ownership of the mine to Kechley.
The Shaanxi provincial government opposed the verdict and declared that the mine belonged to the state, not a private company. The provincial authorities mobilized the local Communist Party discipline inspection commission to launch a bribery investigation, arresting 10 government and judicial officials.
XGMEDI appealed the verdict to the supreme court at the end of 2006, and a ruling was made in November 2009, in which the supreme court asked the Shaanxi high court to re-try the case.
In 2010, the Shaanxi high court re-opened the case and arrived at a different conclusion, ruling that the previous agreement was invalid: XGMEDI wouldn’t have to pay compensation to Kechley, and the mine’s ownership would revert to XGMEDI.
Kechley re-appealed the case. On Dec. 21, 2017, citing the loss of case documents, the supreme court made its final verdict, saying that the agreement between XGMEDI and Kechley was still in effect.
A year later, Kechley has continued to allege miscarriage of justice, as XGMEDI hasn’t moved forward with the mine project.