The Truth About The Shanxi Traffic Police Corruption Scandal
(yWeekend) How I got to the truth of the special-interest chain behind the Shanxi police scandal about the truck fleets. Beijing News reporter Chu Zhaoxin (褚朝新) as narrated to yWeekend reporter Xu Ying (徐英). September 7, 2007.
In the Luliang city (Shanxi province), there are certain truck fleets in which the bosses are not the owners of the trucks, but the truck owners pay protection fees to these bosses. By joining the fleet, the owners have the benefit of not being penalized for exceeding weigh limits and unloading.
On August 6, the Beijing News article <The Secret Financial Ledger of the Luliang Coal Mine Bosses For Bribing The Police> exposed the truth. The article began with the arrest of a certain boss of a truck fleet in Luliang (Shanxi) for bribing the police. The investigators confiscated a financial ledger, which revealed how the traffic policemen, the transportation administrators, the truck fleet owners and the coal mine owners formed a four-way chain of mutual interests. According to sources, three of the traffic officers involved in the case were taken away for interrogation.
On September 2, <Procuratorate News> summarized the strange phenomenon in <The bribers revealed the strange circle of 'strong governance' in Shanxi> in which the law enforcement personnel are driven by pride and interests, the system endows these people with excessive power and some of the truck fleets employ violent tactics to coerce truck owners.
According to Beijing News reporter Chu Zhaoxin, his work did not get to the core people inside this story. All the inside news were just drips that were obtained during the news gathering process. He said that he came across many 'strange events.' But while many truck owners wanted him to report on the over-charging of toll fees, they did not want the system that "protects" their "truck fleets" to collapse altogether.
Going back in history, a certain Luliang coal mine boss was arrested for bribing the traffic police. According to my informant, this Luliang coal mine boss had a financial ledger in which he made detailed records of all the transactions in which he paid bribes to traffic police.
A truck fleet boss is bribing the traffic police? What is the nature of this interest chain? This is what I wanted to know most of all. But is this tip accurate? I did not think that there was any reason for my tipster to lie to me. I was able to confirm the information during my investigation step by step.
On the morning of July 29, the Anti-Corruption Bureau in Lishi district (Luliang city) was the place where I could try to get information. There was a man inside the building. I went over to say hello.
The case of bribing the police was being processed by the Lishi district Anti-Corruption Bureau. "The case was very clean. We found a financial ledger." He said as he smoked. I asked to see the financial ledger, but the man refused on the basis of "the need to maintain confidentiality about the records."
From him, I confirmed that there was a case in which a coal mine boss attempted to bribe the traffic police. The detailed entries included: the details of the protection fees that the vehicle drivers paid him, and the details of how he delivered the money to the traffic police and the transportation bureau workers.
This encouraged me to continue with my news gathering. I wanted to learn more inside news. I headed straight for the director's office, but he was not there.
On the next day, I went to see the Anti-Corruption Bureau director again. He was still not there. From an office worker, I learned that the Anti-Corruption Bureau director of the Lishi district is a woman. I decided to wait until I see her. At some time after 11am, a vehicle with the letters "Procuratorate" entered the parking lot of the Anti-Corruption Bureau. The driver was a woman. I guessed that this was the director. So I intercepted her in the parking lot. When she stopped the car, I confirmed with her that she was the Anti-Corruption Bureau director.
When she found out that I was a reporter, she brought me back to her office. But she declined to be interviewed by me. She said that many people were involved in the case of the bribery of the traffic police and the investigation of the case was still ongoing. She hoped that the media would not publish on this case, because some people will be warned and then run away.
The coal truck fleet owner has been arrested, and the Anti-Corruption Bureau did not want to disclose the details. I had no means of knowing how the coal truck fleet owner managed to get the trucks past the traffic police.
How many traffic police officers were involved in the case? How did they get dragged into this? I went to ask the Traffic Police Squadron Office.
The squadron leader and instructor were absent. There was only a deputy instructor. He said that one of his subordinates was taken away by the procuratorate. But the people at the procuratorate never explained the reason.
I went around to ask at the various offices of the traffic police. As long as a door was open and someone was in the office, I went in to ask.
"Do you know about the affair of the coal mine boss bribing the traffic police?" I asked. Some traffic policemen said, "I don't know." Others said frankly, "I cannot tell you." But there are also traffic policemen who were straight enough to say: "I know. The arrested person is the deputy squadron leader of the Zaolin squadron. His name is Li XX. The leader in charge of the Zaolin squadron is named XX."
That was the deputy instructor that I had just asked for. So I went back to his office, but he was already gone. I had to leave empty-handed.
By sheer coincidence, when I got downstairs, a janitor was pointing at the bulletin board and asking a traffic policeman: "So which was the one who was arrested?" The traffic policeman pointed to the photograph of one person. I immediately took out my mobile camera phone and took the photograph of the squadron leader. That might just come in handy.
On July 31, I returned to the traffic police squadron office in Lishi district to interview the leaders. I had no success, because only his deputy was there. But from this person, I learned that three traffic policemen were involved in the case: a deputy squadron leader of the Zaolin squadron took 200,000 yuan from the coal mine truck fleet during a two year period; two traffic policemen from the Fangshan county traffic police squadron and the Zhongyang county traffic police squadron respectively also received bribes of several tens of thousands yuan. A transportation administration station chief was also involved in the case.
He also told me that the arrested deputy squadron leader had returned the 200,000 yuan in bribes and was presently out on medical leave. The other two traffic policemen have been arrested by the procuratorate.
My two interviews at the traffic police squadron enabled me to understand some of the details in the bribe payment system.
On July 30, I went to the recently re-painted office of the Excessive Weight Office. The sign of the "Luliang City Excessive Weight Administration Leader Group" sat in a corner covered with dust.
Once the chubby worker learned that I was a reporter and sized me up, he asked, "Are you trying to make connections on behalf of the boss of the coal mine truck fleet?"
I hastened to explain that I was writing a story. Then I told him about what I had found out over the past few days. When he heard me name the various traffic police leaders as well as see the photograph of the arrested deputy squadron leader in my mobile camera phone, he believed me.
According to him, this case was common circumstance in Luliang. When a coal-carrying truck is penalized for carrying excessive weight, some person carrying a press card would show up to plead the case. This was confirmed by a local media worker. Supposedly, Luliang even issued instructions to their law enforcement personnel on how to distinguish between true and fake press cards.
After verifying my identity, this worker told me about his experience. Because he had been ignorant of the hidden rules, he had stopped some connected vehicles. As a result, he receive threatening phone calls at home. Once he realized that he was in the way of other people, he quickly asked for a job transfer and stayed away from fieldwork.
When I thought that I got more or less what I wanted to know, I got ready to leave.
"Delete the recording!" Someone yelled at me. As I went to turn the tape recorder off, he spotted me as he entered. During the interview, they asked me not to record their voices because it was a risk for them to talk to me. They had no idea how serious the case was. But I secretly turned on the tape recorder in order to preserve the evidence.
So we were in a stalemate at the office. When he saw that I would not cooperate, he took out his mobile phone and called someone. When I saw that the tape recording was not going to survive, I acceded and erased the recording. I determined that it would not be a problem even if the recording was erased. I had already confirmed that the coal mine truck fleet boss had bribed the traffic police. By not naming these people, I spare them the trouble and it would not affect my work.
From the pieces of information from various sources, the same clue kept re-appearing: the coal truck fleet owners paid bribes to various law enforcement personnel and they used the protection to collect fees. But why were the coal truck owners willing to pay the protection fee?
I spent several days to wait for coal truck owners at the inspection booths. The fleet that was busted this time for bribery was known as the "Hongda" fleet. I needed to contact the owners of this truck fleet. Ever since the boss was arrested, many of the truck owners in the Hongda fleet were reluctant to talk to outsiders.
A Dongfang truck carrying the sign of "Rongfan Fleet" came towards me. I decided to ask the driver. The driver thought that I was a hitchhiker and let me get in. The driver was named Wu. Once he learned that I was a reporter and I wanted to ask about the protection racket, he did not turn me down. Just like Hongda, Rongfan was also a truck fleet that collected protection fees.
Wu said that he pays 10,000 yuan a month to the truck fleet owner. I asked him why he did that. He gave me a full accounting: the total cost for a coal truck each month in terms of excessive weight fines, fuel costs and toll fees was more than 10,000 yuan. They had to carry close to 100 tons in order to earn money, and that exceeds the weight limit. Based upon the relevant regulations, when a coal truck exceeds the weight limit, it must unload the excess weight as well as pay a 2,000 yuan fine. If one truck can haul an extra 50 tons per month, it can make several tens of thousand of yuan. Right now, he pays 10,000 yuan in protection and he can sail smoothly through because he carries the insignia of the Rongfan fleet.
He said that he would not dare to be on the road without joining a fleet because there are so many fines. He hoped that I could report about the serious problem of excessive fines, but he did not want to me to expose the truck fleet that was protecting him.
During my watch, I personally witnessed the boss of the Xinying truck fleet collecting protection fees. I was waiting by the roadside when a truck was forced to stop by two unlicensed vehicles. At first, I had no idea who they were. A man sitting in the passenger seat of the truck came out and spoke to the people who forced the truck to stop. They spoke in local dialect and I could only understand part of what they were saying. I sensed that they were engaged in price negotiation.
The driver was resting on the side and I went over to chat with him. "What are they talking about?" "Protection fee," said the driver. They were with the Xinying truck fleet. After some negotiations, the two sides agreed on the amount of 2,000 yuan. Right in front of me, the truck owner pulled out 2,000 yuan and handed it to the man who seemed to be the boss.
After taking the money, the boss noticed me. "Who are you?" I was afraid that he was a triad gangster type and therefore I did not dare to say that I was a reporter. So I gave him the runaround. I began to say that I was the Anti-Corruption Bureau chief, and then I mentioned the name of a certain traffic police squadron leader.
After a while, he became quite confused and he might have mistaken me for a workers from the procuratorate. "Has this gone too far?" He even volunteered, "I'm ready to quit. I'm just collecting last month's payment."
From the business card that he handed out to certain truck owners, I saw the name "Gao Sisi." I thought that it was his name. When I asked him for a business card, he refused to give me one. I offered to take him out for tea, but he declined. Then he left in his car.
So I went and got into the truck to talk to the owner. When he learned that I was a reporter, he refused to talk to me about the protection fee. When I would not get out, the truck owner told the driver to go to a garage and said that the truck was due for maintenance. So I had to leave.
After I got out, I noticed that there was a sign on the window shield like as if it was a pass. I got back in and saw that it was a pass issued by the Xinying truck fleet. I picked it up and I was ready to put in my bag. But the truck owner saw that and he grabbed it. Since it was his property, I could not do anything.
During this interview, I did not have the assistance of any inside tipster. The entire chain of interest was deduced from the information collected from various sources. Regrettably, I did not have more powerful information about the deep structural reasons and conflicts behind this specific police bribery case.
We tried to contact the Anti-Corruption Bureau of the Lishi district on September 3 and 4. Nobody picked up the telephone to answer our many calls. We have no idea how the case is progressing.
When we called the Luliang city procuratorate, a worker confirmed that this case exists and that the traffic police involved in the case have been arrested. But the worker declined to divulge the progress of the case and even refused to say which department was in charge: "This is an internal affair which should not be divulged to reporters."