December 10, 2018 / 12:50 PM / a year ago

Qingdao metals scandal accused handed 23-year jail term

BEIJING (Reuters) - The man at the center of the 2014 Qingdao metal warehousing scandal in China was sentenced to 23 years in prison on Monday and his company, Dezheng Resources, ordered to pay a 3.012 billion yuan ($438.22 million) fine.

The verdict brings an end to a four-year probe into the firm, which was accused of duplicating warehouse certificates to pledge metal as collateral for multiple bank loans, in a scandal which rocked the metals industry and underlined the risks faced by banks and trading houses storing commodities in China.

Chen Jihong, who founded Dezheng Resources in 2004 and served as its chairman, was found guilty at the Qingdao Intermediate People’s Court on five counts of financial crimes spanning an 18-month period from November 2012 to May 2014, according to a statement from the court on Monday.

Nine other Dezheng Resources staff were sentenced to up to 10 years in prison, the court said, adding that the company’s assets will be auctioned off and the proceeds paid out to victims of the scam proportionally.

The fraud, exposed in 2014, was estimated to have stung Western banks and trading houses as well as local Asian banks for more than $3 billion in total, with Citigroup and Mercuria Energy Trading two of the firms caught up in the fallout.

Chen and Dezheng Resources could not immediately be reached for comment outside of normal working hours on Monday evening.

The firm raised 12.3 billion yuan in funds using either fake warehouse receipts or fake certificates for aluminum ingots, alumina and refined cooper at the ports of Qingdao and Penglai, both in eastern China’s Shandong province, according to the court statement.

In addition, it raised 3.6 billion yuan in loans, letters of credit and bank acceptance bills from 13 banks by repeatedly using the same cargoes as pledged collateral, the statement added.

In the wake of the Qingdao fraud, the metals warehousing industry has made a push to go digital, with so far limited success, and further scandals have come to light.

In 2017, Australia and New Zealand Banking Group sought to recover “substantial losses” stemming from a fraud involving fake ownership documents for nickel stored in Asian warehouses owned by commodities group Glencore.

Reporting by Meng Meng and Tom Daly; additional reporting by Melanie Burton in MELBOURNE; editing by David Evans

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