The mysterious loss of a mountain of legal documents in a decade-long contract battle in China’s top court will erode the beleaguered private sector’s confidence in Beijing’s promises to protect the interests of businesspeople, a lawyer and entrepreneur said.
Veteran Chinese criminal lawyer Zhou Ze said the failure of the Supreme People’s Court to safeguard the documents would have a “chilling effect on all private businesspeople”.
The papers detailed a contract dispute between private firm Kechley Energy Investment headed by businessman Zhao Faqi, and the state-owned Xian Institute of Geological and Mineral Exploration.
Zhao launched legal action over ownership of a mine in Shaanxi province in northwest China in 2006, eventually winning his case in the supreme court in 2017.
The ruling was made despite the papers disappearing from the office of judge Wang Linqing in 2016.
But without the paperwork, the court has been unable to implement the ruling.
The loss only came to light last week after a series of posts on microblogging platform Weibo by prominent former television host Cui Yongyuan and a leaked video believed to be of Wang.
In the video, the judge says two closed-circuit TV cameras in his office housing the documents were sabotaged.
“The cameras were just installed not long ago and there were two of them in my office. They can’t both be broken,” he says.
The court initially denied that it had lost the documents but its confirmation on the weekend that they had disappeared comes as Beijing has repeatedly tried to shore up confidence in the hard-hit private sector.
As the country’s economic growth as slowed in recent months, President Xi Jinping and other senior leaders of the ruling Communist Party have repeatedly vowed to protect the country’s private businesses and find new ways to help them.
Zhou said Zhao’s case was not isolated and would fuel scepticism of the central government’s support.
“A case like this will have a chilling effect on all private businesspeople, making them feel insecure in dealing with the government,” he said. “It makes people think that the government is naturally hostile to people who make their fortune fast.”
One of Zhao’s business acquaintances, who declined to be named for fear of retribution, said the loss of the documents had done great damage to the confidence of the country’s entrepreneurs.
“I feel that people are losing confidence,” the businessman said. “It is a court’s responsibility to follow the law … but they are not even doing that.”