Sex-ring exposé targets ‘tigers and flies’

Disgraced party chief Lei Zhengfu in flagrante delicto. Photographs: Getty/AP
Disgraced party chief Lei Zhengfu in flagrante delicto. Photographs: Getty/AP
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THE middle-aged officials met with the young women secretly, not knowing they had video cameras hidden in their handbags. Every detail of their trysts were recorded. Then a group of men appeared and confronted the shame-faced penpushers with the images and set out their demands.

Details of a “honey trap” sex extortion ring operating in the south-west city of Chongqing were revealed by China’s state media last week.

The scam was said to have operated for years and the resulting scandal has so far led to the sacking of at least 11 officials – from the Communist Party, government or state-owned companies – found to have had sex with women from the extortion ring only to be blackmailed by gangsters.

Xi Jinping, China’s new leader, has vowed to root out corruption and said last week that “flies,” or lowly officials, as well as leading bureaucrats he referred to as “tigers,” must be cut down.

The most famous victim of the sex-ring scandal is Lei Zhengfu, a middle-aged district party chief secretly filmed having sex with a young woman in a hotel room in 2008. In late November 2012, the leaked video of Lei began circulating on the internet. He was sacked and placed under investigation, with the online images serving to make him the public face of corruption scandals which have brought down a series of low- and mid-level officials across China.

Now, according to Xinhua, China’s official state news agency, ten other officials have been fired for falling prey to the Chongqing sex ring. Five of them were executives in state-owned companies.

The sex scandal might have come out earlier, but Bo Xilai, the Chongqing party chief at the time, and Wang Lijun, his police chief, buried the results of an investigation into the ring. Bo and Wang were both ousted last year following the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood. The Communist party claimed his murder was arranged by Bo’s wife; Bo is expected to be tried soon on a range of criminal charges. While the two scandals are unrelated, the airing of the blackmail ring at this time could reflect a decision by the Chinese leadership to highlight other problems in Chongqing under Bo’s rule.

Heywood had lived in China for more than a decade and had a Chinese wife. His company, Heywood Boddington Associates, worked as an intermediary linking western companies with powerful Chinese officials, and had strong business links with Gu Kailai, wife of Bo Xilai. In October 2011 they were said to have had a financial disagreement. A month later he was found dead in a hotel room in Chongqing. He had been poisoned. Gu was found guilty of Heywood’s murder in August last year and is likely to face life in jail.

The ring’s mastermind was a man named Xiao Ye, and three women were used as bait.

The state media reports did not say exactly what the officials gave the men in return for keeping their sordid secrets, but one report said that a company run by Xiao was involved in a property development in a district run by Lei.

Xiao allegedly gave the women a list of Chongqing officials they were to stalk. The women sent a text claiming they were working for a local property agent and had met the official at a business event.

“Hope we can stay in touch,” they would text. If the hapless official said he could not remember ever meeting the woman, she would respond with the name of a chief executive and chide her target with forgetting her so soon. She would then up the ante by texting sexy images of herself, and push for a face-to-face.

She would arrange to meet the official in a particular, upmarket hotel, ostensibly for a tea or coffee or bite to eat. Usually the flattered official would start to give her gifts, such as jewellery. As the phoney romance continued, the young woman would arrange for them to get a room. When she turned up to have sex with her middle-aged target, she would have a camera hidden in her bag. To put him at his ease, they would continue to meet in the hotel room for sex, partly to ensure she captured quality video of their antics.

Then, at some later point, her handlers would turn up in force, usually when the pair were having intercourse.

One of the men would pretend to be the woman’s boyfriend and throw a tantrum. Behind him would be another man pretending to be a private detective. A third man would then show up and say he was the sex-ring gang boss.

They would beat up the official and show him the video.

Xiao allegedly entered the scene later to strike a deal with the official, assuring him he would keep the video buried as long as he co-operated.

The police first investigated the ring in 2008, after Lei, fearing the videos would eventually leak out anyway, told senior officials about the ring. But the results were seemingly buried or ignored by Bo and Wang, state media said.