China detains 10 company officials over fabricated pollution data

BEIJING (Reuters) - Police in China have detained 10 company officials for fabricating pollution data, the environment ministry said on Thursday, as the government steps up inspections of businesses amid growing public discontent over pollution.

A man sets up a warning sign next to a vehicle after an accident amid heavy smog after the city issued its first ever "red alert" for air pollution, in Beijing, China, December 8, 2015. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

The drive follows a red alert declared in Beijing last week over acrid smog that shrouded the capital, which triggered curbs on vehicle use and school closures, with a government call for a halt to “large-scale, outdoor activity”.

Eight firms, from a sewage plant in the southern city of Dongguan to a Coca-Cola joint venture in northwestern Gansu province, were accused of using fake figures to hinder or manipulate environment checks, the Ministry of Environmental Protection said on its website.

Special law enforcement teams from the ministry uncovered the cases, it said, adding that the firms “unscrupulously” falsified data, in a bid to evade regulations.

The ministry said some of the companies involved may face criminal lawsuits. Chinese law prescribes jail terms of up to seven years for pollution offenders, state news agency Xinhua said.

Zhao Yanhong, a representative of Coca-Cola in China, said the case involving the joint venture happened in October and was handled by regional authorities, with a detained employee of the joint venture being released after five days.

“We’ve promptly accepted the criticism and rectification,” Zhao added.

Separately, Xinhua said some parts of north China will see the worst smog so far this year from Saturday, according to the National Meteorological Center.

A red alert is triggered when the government believes air quality will exceed a level of 200 on an air quality index that measures pollutants for at least three days.

($1=6.4822 Chinese yuan renminbi)

Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Clarence Fernandez