BEIJING, China - A former Chinese banking official accused of amassing a real estate empire of at least 45 properties under multiple fake identities stood trial Tuesday for forgery, state media said, in a case that has revealed privileges of the powerful in China.
The trial opened in Jingbian County People's Court in the northern province of Shaanxi against Gong Ai'ai, a former vice-president of a local rural bank, the official Xinhua News Agency said. Four former government employees also went on trial for their role in the wrongdoing. Calls to the court went unanswered.
Gong denied the charges of forging, buying and selling state identification papers, arguing that all her identification documents were processed by police authorities, state media said. A verdict was expected at a later date. If convicted, Gong would face time in jail.
Gong, who allegedly bought at least 45 properties worth $160 million, came to be known as "Sister House" among the Chinese public and fueled public demands that officials declare their assets. The prosecution against Gong is one of several high-profile anti-graft cases since Xi Jinping became China's leader last fall with calls for renewed efforts to fight corruption.
After the case surfaced earlier this year, people were shocked by the size of Gong's real estate holdings — including 41 properties in the ultra-pricy housing market of Beijing — in a country where an average family struggles to afford one apartment.
They also were alarmed that Gong was able to acquire multiple identities despite China's tightly controlled regulations on identification documents.
Multiple IDs can not only give a person access to additional benefits in areas of housing and education but also can hide one's assets and circumvent property limits in Beijing and other cities that are meant to deter real estate speculation.
Gong's ability to get multiple identifications is central to the case, suggesting corruption among the police who register residences and issue identification cards, as well as highlighting the cozy trade of power for money.
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