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Chinese court sentences U.S. businessman in mob trial

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  • U.S. businessman Vincent Wu posed with an American flag as he waited to welcome China's then-Vice President Xi Jinping on his visit to Los Angeles, Calif. on Feb. 16, 2012. (AP Photo/Courtesy of Anna Wu, File)

BEIJING » A Chinese court sentenced a Chinese-American businessman to 20 years in prison on charges of heading a mob that illegally detained rivals and operated casinos, and rejected his claim that he was tortured by police.

The Guangzhou Intermediate People’s Court said in a statement Thursday on its microblog that Vincent Wu operated illegal casinos that raked in $7.8 million, got an associate to throw acid at a judge who ruled against him in a lawsuit and ordered thugs to use knives and bulldozers to threaten farmers who refused his offer of compensation to clear off land he wanted to develop.

About two dozen other defendants in the case received sentences of between 19 months and 19 years. Many of the defendants declared in court that they had been tortured by police — deprived of sleep or beaten — into confessing to assault, kidnapping and other violent crimes. About 20 of them recanted their confessions.

Wu’s daughter, Anna Wu, and lawyer Wang Shihua said the sentence was unjust and excessive and that Wu would appeal. Wu’s family says he’s a law-abiding businessman whose rivals have framed him to seize his assets.

"We’re very devastated, of course, because we did not expect it to be that bad, given that so many of the defendants said they had been tortured," Anna Wu said by phone. "No matter how many times we need to appeal, we will, until my dad is proven innocent."

China’s leaders and its highest court have pledged to curtail miscarriages of justice that commonly occur because of the illegal use of torture to obtain confessions.

Such abuses are a focal point of public anger at the legal system and the Communist Party that controls it. Earlier this week, three police officers were found guilty of torturing a suspect in a southwest Chinese city but handed lenient sentences, sparking a flurry of criticism on Chinese social media.

Wu’s lawyers saw the gang trial as a test case for determining to what extent a court would comply with the leadership in fully investigating allegations of torture — and throwing out evidence illegally obtained from using it.

"This trial has made a joke of the law," said Wang, adding that police had refused to provide video and audio recordings of their interrogations of Wu. "Is this called a trial?"

Chinese media cited a police officer who testified by videoconference as saying police could not produce the recordings because the hard disk they were on had a virus.

The court refused to let the defense lawyers call many witnesses to the stand, Anna Wu said, while prosecutors and the judge repeatedly interrupted the defense attorneys, prompting many of the lawyers to stage a walkout in protest. The court carried on with the trial despite their absence.

Wu told his lawyers he had been beaten, kicked and strung by his arms from a ceiling beam as police tried to force him to sign a confession. One other defendant alleged that police applied electric shocks to his genitals. Others said they were suspended by their wrists from high places.

Police in nearby Huizhou city, where the interrogations were carried out, denied the allegations.

Wu left China in the late 1970s as a stowaway to neighboring Hong Kong, where he obtained residency. He moved with his family to the U.S. in 1994, settled in Los Angeles and eventually became a U.S. citizen.

He has been denied U.S. consular access since his detention in June 2012 despite being a U.S. passport holder who shuttles between his family in Los Angeles and his business in China.

The court said he was tried as a Chinese citizen because he last entered the mainland on his Hong Kong residence permit and China doesn’t recognize dual citizenship.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Nolan Barkhouse said that aside from the first day of court proceedings in early February, Chinese authorities refused to allow American consular officers to attend the trial, which concluded in early April.

"We believe that our consular officers should be permitted access, which is why we’ve requested access 11 times," Barkhouse said.

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