Caixin
Feb 09, 2017 07:13 PM
SOCIETY & CULTURE

Guangxi Authorities Nail Down Official at ‘Rare Pangolin Banquet’

A screenshot of a post dated July 2015 published by Weibo user “Ah_cal” shows people at a banquet that allegedly served pangolin, an endangered species, in Guangxi. Other photos show a Hong Kong delegation meeting with local government officials. Photo: Weibo
A screenshot of a post dated July 2015 published by Weibo user “Ah_cal” shows people at a banquet that allegedly served pangolin, an endangered species, in Guangxi. Other photos show a Hong Kong delegation meeting with local government officials. Photo: Weibo

(Beijing) — Authorities in the southern region of Guangxi have acknowledged that an official attended a 2015 banquet at which meat from a pangolin, an endangered species, was served.

The Communist Party’s regional anti-graft watchdog opened an investigation after pictures of the feast, held in July 2015, resurfaced online in recent days, triggering thousands of angry comments from the public.

Li Ning, an education official at the time who is currently under arrest on suspicion of bribery, “was the only official” to attend the lavish dinner where the pangolin meat dish was served, according to a statement released Wednesday by the regional branch of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI).

Li was in charge of helping regional universities connect with Chinese communities abroad before he was arrested in May 2016. He was suspected of taking bribes from publishers to recommend their textbooks when he previously headed the curriculum design and textbooks unit at the local education department, the CCDI said.

The original post from July 2015, attributed to a user named “Ah_cal” on Chinese microblogging site Weibo, mentioned that two local officials were feasting on the illicit meat without giving their full names.

"Special thanks to Bureau Director Li and Secretary Huang for inviting us to their office and cooking pangolin for us,” it said.

The Weibo user has since been identified as Hong Kong businessman Calvin Lee Ka-wo, who visited Guangxi in July 2015 as part of a group of entrepreneurs exploring investment opportunities. The organizers of the business tour issued a statement Wednesday confirming that the photos of the banquet, which have since been taken down, were first posted on Lee’s Weibo account.

Caixin could not verify who had dug out the 17-month-old microblog post or why the post resurfaced recently.

The pangolin is on China’s list of endangered wild animals and among the world’s most trafficked mammals.

Meat of this rare animal is considered a delicacy in China, and its hard scales are thought to help detoxify the body, according to traditional Chinese medicine.

Poaching has driven the animal to the verge of extinction in China and trafficking is rampant, conservation groups said. More than 1 million pangolins were trafficked globally between 2006 and 2015, and one-tenth of them were smuggled into China, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

The committee organizing the Hong Kong businessmen’s tour to Guangxi said Lee attended the privately held banquet a day after the rest of the delegation had returned on July 10, 2015. Lee is a son of Lee Fook Sang, the former chairman of Problem-proof Co. Ltd., a watch and jewelry trade company in Hong Kong.

Poaching and the illegal trade of endangered species are punishable by five to 10 years in prison under Chinese law.

As the incident continued to attract widespread condemnation online, the regional forestry authorities have launched a separate probe into possible violations of laws linked to the protection of endangered animals.

Stories of officials feasting on the meat of endangered animals surface from time to time in China, despite austerity campaign launched by Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping in late 2012.

In January 2015, 14 police officers in Shenzhen were suspended for assaulting three journalists who tried to report about a banquet attended by local bigwigs where salamander, a critically endangered amphibian, was on the menu, The Beijing News reported.

It is not clear if anyone was punished for that incident.

Contact reporter Li Rongde (rongdeli@caixin.com)

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