China lawmaker in deep trouble over sinkhole

China lawmaker in deep trouble over sinkhole

BEIJING - A Chinese lawmaker was being sought by authorities Thursday after trying to dig out a five-storey basement in his Beijing courtyard home, only for a giant sinkhole to swallow four of his neighbours' houses, reports said.

An editorial in the state-run China Daily newspaper blasted Li Baojun for having displayed a "deep disregard for the law".

His house, in a historic neighbourhood in Beijing's Xicheng district, also collapsed when his ambitious extension plans went awry at the weekend.

Fifteen of his neighbours were reportedly left homeless, although no-one was injured.

Photos posted online and in Chinese state media showed a gaping 10-metre-deep (35-foot-deep) hole extending into a roadway, blocked off by tarpaulins and traffic cones.

Li is a member of the local People's Congress in the eastern city of Xuzhou and heads an auto parts company, the China Daily said, adding authorities had been unable to locate him.

A total of 1,400 cubic metres (50,000 cubic feet) of concrete were needed to fill the hole, it reported.

Despite decades of development, the centre of the Chinese capital still has pockets of ancient courtyard homes with traditional roofs, packed along narrow alleys. Some have been renovated into luxury residences that can command huge rents.

Li had been granted a permit to restore the courtyard, but not to build a basement, the paper said.

"It's common for some residents in the area to dig a basement without permission," one local surnamed Ru told the Global Times newspaper. "Do we have to wait till we are all buried for the problem to be solved?" Construction projects in China must be approved by local authorities, but laws are poorly enforced.

In recent years, a series of illegal structures has provoked reactions from humour to anger in China, among them a rock villa on top of a 26-storey Beijing apartment tower that sparked an outcry over the contempt for public safety by the country's rich.

The China Daily chastised Li for "reminding us, again, of exemplary lawlessness." "We are curious what has motivated him to openly ignore an explicit local legislation," the paper wrote. "We are ashamed to be talking about a lawmaker's disregard of the law. We have no idea what has brought him the seat on the local legislature. But more likely than not, it was money."

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