Central China graduates lose $113m in cash-for-jobs scam
GUARDIAN in Beijing
A gang in central China defrauded college graduates of 90 million yuan (HK$113 million) by claiming they could get them into jobs in banks and state-owned enterprises and institutions, Chinese media have reported.
To add insult to injury, the jobseekers went through a battery of written tests, interviews and even internships designed to convince them that the employment prospects were genuine.
The case in Taiyuan, Shanxi province, has cast light on the widespread practice of paying for jobs. Police said the gang had ties to officials and people with social status, making their offer of help appear more credible.
News portals, citing the Beijing News and Xinhua, said about 500 college students had been persuaded to pay between 50,000 and 350,000 yuan for posts. The scam ran for about four years before police apprehended the suspects.
“Every process of the job recruitment was particularly clear, and each written examination and interview was rendered particularly realistically, so it made people feel it was very formal,” said an officer identified only by his surname, Yuan.
“Secondly . . . some of the students finally got in touch with the gang through several layers of connections. This network was involved with some officials or people who had a certain social status. It made it more convincing."
Yuan said the gang had also been canny in identifying the psychological vulnerability of parents. “The current employment situation is tougher and parents generally want their children to enter the stable environment of banks, state-owned enterprises and other well-paid units,” he said.
Graeme Smith, of the University of Sydney, said payments for jobs were common in China, although they usually resulted in a job. “You would also have to have qualifications; you couldn’t buy a job you weren’t able to do,” he said.
His research in rural Anhui province has shown how all sorts of work, even at the lowest level, can command a price. At one stage people had been willing to pay up to two years’ wages for a factory floor job in a lightbulb plant, he said, simply because there were few other jobs of the kind available locally. People felt the price was worth it so they could earn a decent wage without becoming a migrant worker.
The scale of payments reflected the desirability of the jobs and their availability and the number of people involved in decision-making, he said. “The big payment is someone who’s a township party secretary but wants to move up to the next level; that’s a very narrow bit of the pipeline,” he said. “Often you are not bribing a person but a whole bunch of people."
While large sums of hands can change hands, experts say few people would offer or accept a bribe outright if they did not already know the other party reasonably well. The need to find someone who knows the decision-makers helps to explain why those seeking posts can be persuaded to hand over cash.
In a separate case this year, also reported by the Beijing News, a businessman was sentenced to 15 years in jail for defrauding an official who wanted to buy a provincial government position for 6m yuan. He reportedly claimed he had a former classmate working in central government who could help him win the promotion.
Ren Jianmin, who teaches public management at Beihang University, said the government had a long-term plan for reforms of the official selection system. While official positions were often not particularly well-paid, he said, the related benefits were attractive.
“That’s why these positions are sold - it’s things like having a car and benefits in terms of property. Officials also have special privileges and powers,” Ren said.
Corruption cases have shown that officials’ salaries are often dwarfed by the money they can make in other ways, such as by accepting bribes for contracts, dismissing complaints or indeed selling posts themselves.
China’s new leader, Xi Jinping, has vowed to fight both “tigers” and “flies” that is, misbehaving officials at all levels in a drive against corruption. But the party has repeatedly vowed to weed out abuses, with limited success.
In 2010 Li Yuanchao, then head of the party’s central organisation commission, said: “We want those who sell offices to be utterly discredited, and those who buy offices to suffer a double loss."