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China govt money paid for French vineyards

Spain overall produced 50 million hectolitres (6.7 billion bottles) of wine in 2013, a 41 percent surge from 2012, the Spanish agriculture ministry say/FILE

Vineyard/FILE

BEIJING, June 25- Chinese government funds have been misused to buy French vineyards, pay for a trip to Las Vegas and more, the state auditor said in a report revealing more than 300 serious corruption cases.

President Xi Jinping launched a much publicized anti graft campaign after taking over as Communist chief in late 2012, but critics say no systemic reforms have been brought in to prevent corruption.

Two companies in the northeastern port of Dalian were granted 268 million yuan ($43 million) by local authorities last year to buy overseas technology, but instead purchased 14 vineyards in France, the National Audit Office (NAO) said in its annual report.

Haichang Group, one of the firms named by the NAO, is currently the biggest Chinese owner of Bordeaux vineyards with more than 10 estates including Chateau Chenu Lafitte, according to French media reports.

Chinese investors have been among the biggest buyers of French wineries in recent years, prompting concerns that were highlighted by a report last year by Paris’ money laundering investigators Tracfin calling for “increased vigilance” on such deals.

The NAO said a total of 314 cases where “major violation of laws and disciplines” was suspected, involving more than 1,100 people, had been “uncovered and transferred” to investigators.

The 2012 report had 175 such cases, it added in the document, submitted Tuesday to the National People’s Congress, China’s Communist controlled legislature.

China Geological Survey officials spent three days in Las Vegas during a trip to North America meant to study shale gas technology, and later claimed they were working in Canada at the time, the NAO said.

A tour of high ranking officials organised by the State Oceanic Administration in 2012 to a Chinese research station in Antarctica spent half the travel time in France and Chile, it added.

Mismanagement of state assets was rife, the NAO said.

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An investigation into China National Cotton Reserves Corporation found that the company leased out some of its storage spaces while millions of tonnes of cotton were left out in the open air.

Some executives of state owned China National Petroleum Corporation, the country’s top oil producer, “colluded with private companies or individuals to pursue personal gains” in deals such as asset acquisitions and sales, causing “grave losses to state interests”, it said.

Bribe taking methods have become more covert, it added, with offenders appointing brokers to receive kickbacks or exchanging favours for benefits such as shares and not cashing in until they retire, it added.

“Some invested part of their illegal gains in public welfare undertakings to build a virtuous image or pursue political status,” the NAO said.

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