By DIDI TANG
BEIJING (AP) â¿¿ As a bank officer from a poor region in rural China, Gong Ai'ai is an unlikely property baron. In a country where middle class workers can struggle to afford a single apartment in major cities, Gong is accused of amassing a real estate empire worth at least $160 million. Her alleged secret: corruption, kick-backs and multiple fake identities.
The stunning wealth she is accused of amassing â¿¿ 45 properties in three cities â¿¿ and the audacity with which she is accused of doing it has touched a nerve with a Chinese public long numb to tales of rampant corruption among the nation's official bureaucracy.
Gong â¿¿ who was arrested Monday on suspicion of forging official documents â¿¿ is accused of misusing her power while working for the county-backed Shenmu Rural Commercial Bank to give loans to mine operators in the area in return for cash or shares in the mines. Gong is accused of using that money and at least three fake national identity cards obtained with help of corrupt police to fund her real estate purchases.
Of the properties she purchased, 41 are in Beijing, where skyrocketing real estate prices have priced many Chinese families out of homeownership.
Gong's case has captivated Chinese in a way other reports of corruption haven't. The public and state media have registered shock with each twist since her alleged misdeeds began trickling out in mid-January, as the number of properties she allegedly bought swelled from several, to more than 20, to 45, and the number of fake IDs went from one to three. In the days prior to her detention, speculation centered on the whereabouts of Gong â¿¿ dubbed "Sister House" by the media â¿¿ and why she had yet to be arrested.
"I think 'Sister House' Gong Ai'ai is now an entertainment celebrity," Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the state-run Global Times, said in an online posting Tuesday. "Entertainment in China is not very developed, so all these corruption thrillers are compensating for it. They are more twisted than some half-baked movie plots."