Shanghai probes sex claims against officials

CHINA - Shanghai's top court suspended four judicial officials on Sunday amid allegations from an anonymous blogger that they patronized prostitutes.

The scandal came to light on Friday after the anonymous blogger, identified by two newspapers under the surname Ni, posted a video of a group of court officials arm-in-arm with female karaoke partners at a resort hotel on June 9. The blogger claimed five court officials later paid for prostitutes, though the Shanghai Disciplinary Commission said it is investigating four officials.

The commission said on its micro blog on Sunday that the four officials - including Chen Xueming, chief judge of the No 1 Civil Tribunal at the Shanghai High People's Court, and Zhao Minghua, deputy chief judge of the high court's No 1 Civil Tribunal - have been suspended and are being investigated.

The commission pledged it will release results from its investigation to the public.

"The disciplinary commission is investigating the incident, and we have no information on how it is going," Zhang Guanqun, the high court's spokesman, said on Sunday.

Zhang declined to clarify whether four or five officials were being investigated.

The scandal is the latest to embroil Party officials in accusations of sexual impropriety and another major blow to the credibility of China's judiciary system following the removal of former Supreme People's Court vice-president Huang Songyou after he was convicted of bribery and embezzling funds.

Huang was sentenced to life in prison in 2010 for accepting more than 3.9 million yuan ($636,000) in bribes.

In the latest scandal, the video shows court officials with prostitutes at Hengshan Resort in Shanghai's Pudong New Area, one of several hotels in the city that are often patronized by Party and government officials on business trips.

Ni, the informant, said he started collecting evidence on Zhao a year ago. Ni claimed that he suspected Zhao inappropriately intervened in a civil case in 2009 that led to an unfair court ruling and consequently to a financial loss of millions of yuan for Ni.

"I was forced to this step because the ruling of that civil case forced me to sell my only apartment," Ni was quoted as saying by Beijing Times on Sunday.

According to the newspaper, Ni and the unidentified company that he owned were involved in a civil case against a plaintiff in 2009. Two lower courts had ruled against him and he also lost an appeal to the Shanghai High People's Court.

In July 2012, he sold his downtown Shanghai apartment to raise enough money for the compensation owed to the plaintiff in the civil case, according to the report.

At the time, Ni discovered that Zhao was a relative of both the plaintiff and his attorney and began looking for evidence against the court judge to show that Zhao violated Party and court rules.

Ni said he then began following Zhao with equipments including an iPad and a smartphone, keeping his whereabouts hidden from his loved ones.

After a year, he said, he had collected enough video clips to reveal Zhao's penchant for spending on luxury items and on women.

Ni also insisted that he collected all of the video evidence through legal means and has never met Zhao personally.

On the evening of June 9, Ni said, he followed Zhao's car to the Hengshan Resort. Chen and three others were Zhao's passengers, the report said.

At the resort, the group ate dinner and sang karaoke in one of the most expensive private rooms. After the group retired to their rooms, the video shows young women entered their hotel rooms and came out after a few hours.

On June 13, Ni said, he asked the hotel management for its surveillance video footage under the excuse that he had his belongings stolen during a falsified stay at the resort.

He then recorded the hotel's video footage with his iPad and smartphone.

According to the Beijing Times, employees at Shanghai's disciplinary commission approached Ni on Friday night and spoke with him for several hours on Saturday at their office. The paper said that Ni told the commission that he was acting under his own volition.

He also revealed that his main target was Zhao and that catching Chen and three others in the video was a windfall.