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Monday, April 16, 2012

Investing in China Took Her From Rags to Riches to Death Row

Wu Ying, head of the Bense Holding Group, stands on trial. AP When a businessman makes a bad bet in America, he's apt to lose money. But as a couple of news items out of China this week reveal, doing business is quite a bit dicier in the Middle Kingdom. Make the wrong bet there, and you may lose more than just money. You may lose your life.

That's the fate awaiting two businesswomen sentenced to death by Chinese courts last week. The first, "rogue trader" Wang Caipang, is said to have defrauded investors of some $15.9 million borrowed for the purposes of buying equipment and property, and relending through "credit guarantee" firms. Instead, Caipang is said to have used the borrowed funds to speculate (badly) in the futures and gold markets, losing the bulk of the money.

If this story so far has you cheering "Hurray for China! Too bad Bernie Madoff was charged in America," then hold on a second. The allegations against the second defendant going to the gallows were a bit less clear-cut.

In fact, while greater in scale than the Wang Caipang case, the "fraud" alleged against 31-year-old Wu Ying hardly sounds criminal at all.

As reported on Bloomberg, Wu borrowed some $122 million from her investors, claiming that she would use the funds for the general business purposes of her "Bense" group of companies. Like Caipang, Wu wound up losing about half the money -- but there's a key difference here. Wu used the money for precisely the purposes she promised.