China struggles to crack down on fake military officials

Number of criminals making financial gains impersonating PLA officials soars amid culture of state corruption

China’s unbridled boomtown ethos has famously spawned a world of counterfeits. Fake Apple stores, fake pharmaceuticals, even fake meat has hit the headlines.

But in recent weeks, Chinese police have had their hands full with a more treacherous kind of sham – fake military officials.

The Beijing-based newspaper Guangming Daily reported on Friday that police in coastal Shandong province’s Cangshan County arrested 15 people posturing as officers from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the country’s military, on 5 November.

The so-called “fake military officer gang,” backed by counterfeit badges and “confidential documents,” had unsuccessfully attempted to convince local police that central military authorities had dispatched them to secure the release of prisoners.

On Thursday, China Business News reported that one fake military officer in the central Chinese city Xi’an lost 800,000 yuan (£81,000) to another fake military officer in an elaborate scam. “The mantis stalks the cicada, unaware of the oriel waiting behind,” the newspaper wrote, borrowing a traditional Chinese expression.

The PLA is riddled with corruption. Notoriously secretive, the organisation enjoys weak disciplinary oversight and a strong tradition of camaraderie, enabling a culture of rampant graft. The sheer number of criminals to impersonate PLA officers in recent months- and the scale of their gains- testifies to widespread, tacit understanding of the organisation’s grey economy.

According to China Business News, a 49 year-old man surnamed Mu first swindled 400,000 yuan (£40,500) from a local man surnamed Zhang – he claimed that he was a high-ranking military official, and promised that the fee would guarantee a place for Zhang’s daughter in a northern Chinese military academy.

Yet Mu had his comeuppance soon afterwards, when a 50 year-old firefighting equipment salesman surnamed Hou convinced him to invest in a new military academy. A senior military official surnamed Yang, he claimed, was spearheading the project. Mu swindled an additional 800,000 yuan from Zhang for the investment; Zhang eventually reported him to the police. Police arrested Mu on 29 October, and his swindlers soon afterwards.

Police in Cangshan county traced their own case of fake officials to a “fake military training base” in Wuzhou, a prefecture-level city in the southern province Guangxi, and raided it on 9 November, arresting eight people.

Gang members had defrauded people across the country by promising mining permits and admission to elite military schools in return for kickbacks, Guangming Daily reported; the scam earned them 10m yuan (£1m) and 2m yuan (£200,000) worth of gold.

Pictures posted online show police brusquely apprehending the men, dressed in counterfeit olive-green military uniforms. One shows the gang’s leader, a man surnamed Sun, apparently wetting his trousers in fright.

In late October, China’s state broadcaster CCTV revealed that a 58 year-old man named Dong Xianwei had defrauded six families of 3.8m yuan (£385,000) since 2005 by posing as a PLA general. Like Mu, he promised that he would help their children gain admission to elite military schools; he charged 200,000 …read more