From Media to Mafia: How a Television Journalist Became a Gangster
Miao Yingchun’s career in journalism ended last summer.
Miao worked in broadcast journalism in Inner Mongolia for almost 30 years, reporting from Ulanqab, a city 140 kilometers (87 miles) east of the autonomous region’s capital Hohhot. He was responsible for reports from the midsize city and the vast Xilingol League for the autonomous region’s central television station. Outside of work, he was a well-known figure in the local political and social scene.
On July 7, 2018, plainclothes police officers sent from Hohhot surrounded Miao’s house. They took Miao away with his hands cuffed behind his back. Later, people learned that those policemen were members of a special organized crime taskforce.
Miao’s house reportedly contained nearly 70 million yuan ($10.1 million) worth of gold and a number of illegal weapons. His family’s assets exceeded 160 million yuan, including 74 homes in Beijing, Sanya, Hohhot, Ulanqab and other places.
One year later, on July 12, Miao was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Hohhot Intermediate Court. He was found guilty of organizing, leading and participating in organized crime, for falsely accusing or framing others of crimes, and eight counts of intentional assault and other crimes.
These convictions were supported by multiple examples of bribery, assault, improper use of power and more. Along with Miao, nine others were sentenced to between two and 14 years’ in prison. Among them were the head of the anti-mafia office unit at the Ulanqab public security bureau, Miao’s wife and Miao’s sister.
Political and legal journalist
Ulanqab is situated at the junction of Inner Mongolia autonomous region, Shanxi province, and Hebei province. It is in central Inner Mongolia, adjacent to Hohhot and more than 300 kilometers from Beijing. According to his identification card, this is where Miao was born on Jan. 1, 1968 — though his primary school classmates say that really, he was born in 1960 or 1961.
He came from a family of ordinary cadres and government workers. People who knew him recalled that he delivered goods to the Ulanqab Electric Power Bureau before starting work for the Ulanqab League Science and Technology Commission. In 1992, he began working at Ulanqab’s television station, reporting on political and legal affairs.
Former colleagues believed that there was an ulterior motive in Miao’s choice to report on politics and legal affairs. He used his position reporting on public security organs to establish a wide range of contacts within the police force and the prosecutorial system of Ulanqab. He began to abuse his media power, a former colleague said, even leading to a monthlong suspension.
When the Ulanqab TV station seemed like it had become too small a platform for him, Miao set his sights on joining Inner Mongolia’s provincial-level station. According to his trial, Miao bribed Zhao Chuntao, the former director of the station, a total of 590,000 yuan to secure this position. Miao only admitted to bribing Zhao with 300,000 yuan.
Miao was sentenced on July 12 to life imprisonment by the Hohhot Intermediate Court. Photo: Hohhot Intermediate Court.
In 2006, Miao began working at the regional television station. In Ulanqab, he had been a well-known figure, but in Hohhot he had to work hard to get ahead of the other talent. But before long, Zhao appointed Miao as the stationmaster of the Inner Mongolia station, responsible for coverage by the autonomous region’s stations in Ulanqab and Xilingol.
With his higher status, Miao returned to Ulanqab. A veteran producer in the city believed that while Miao was dedicated to his work, often shooting things multiple times until he was satisfied, he had an uncultured and unprofessional manner. Many of his scripts were written by subordinates and were occasionally factually incorrect. But what really mattered was appearing on TV and the local fame that came with it.
The more leaders Miao got to know, the more his circle extended beyond the scope of his profession. He was well aware that he not only had the professional aura of being a TV reporter — he also had the power of media “accountability” behind him.
In March 2014, in order to force Inner Mongolia Hetao Liquor to buy more advertisements on the TV channel, Miao ordered four of his employees to buy Hetao’s alcohol products and pretend to have alcohol poisoning. He arranged for some journalists to shoot interviews at the company’s headquarters. However, a Hetao employee tried to block the interviews and the two sides clashed. Miao called the police and the employee was held in administrative detention for five days. Soon after, Miao broadcast the so-called “Hetao alcohol poisoning incident” on the channel — and it was repeated many times on the city’s channel — hurting Hetao’s business.
In May 2017, Liang Yuming was bitten by one of Miao’s dogs. Miao did not want to compensate him, so he ordered one of his underlings to take a photo of Liang’s son having dinner with a high-level official and called the district’s disciplinary watchdog. The official was placed under investigation and Liang was so frightened that he gave up his claim.
In addition, many people turned to Miao for help to settle land, medical and legal disputes.
Prosecutors said that Miao turned the Ulan Garden Community next to the Ulan Cement Plant into commercial housing after seeing the rise in housing prices. He sold property there at a price of more than 3,500 yuan per square meter. Photo: Wang Heyan/Caixin
A producer at the Ulanqab TV station discovered that Miao had been broadcasting a large number of positive reports about a cement company, Inner Mongolia Ulan Cement Co. Ltd., and its general manager Luo Zhenhua. Many of the reports were not in accordance with professional norms, yet all were broadcast.
The Ulan Cement Plant was one of the key national construction projects under the eighth Five-Year Plan, which ended in 1995, and the largest poverty alleviation project in Inner Mongolia. How Miao and Luo were connected is unclear, but the two formed an alliance at least 20 years earlier when Miao was working at the Ulanqab TV station. According to the court’s judgement, Miao, with help from Luo, was contracted for the construction of residential buildings at the cement plant without any bidding or official contracts. Subsequently, Miao arranged for others to go through the relevant formalities on his behalf. In addition, Miao was also contracted to complete a number of expansion projects for the company, including the construction of other plants — he almost monopolized all of the company’s construction projects.
The projects made Miao and his family rich. In return for the building contracts, Miao sent Luo more than 5.3 million yuan in cash between 2000 and 2011.
During his trial, Miao claimed that he had not sent more than 5 million yuan to Luo. His lawyer reminded him that the bank had records of him withdrawing the money.
Miao and his wife also rented out commercial buildings and houses that they did not own, collecting more than 3.8 million yuan in rent. He falsified personnel information, forged signatures, and took more than 440,000 yuan from the Xilingol television station for personal consumption and claimed 280,000 yuan in compensation for a lost company vehicle. In total, the court found that Miao had embezzled more than 43.3 million yuan and spent more than 6.89 million yuan on bribes.
Luo and nine other former and current employees of the Ulan Cement Plant have since been detained and are being investigated for corruption.
The catalyst for Miao’s fall was an injury case involving Zhao Chuntao, the former director of the Inner Mongolia station.
On Jan. 23, 2018, the temperature in Hohhot dipped to -27 degrees Celsius (-16.6 degrees Fahrenheit). A mid-level employee at the station surnamed Xiao drove home, but as he went to leave his community’s parking garage, he heard a gust of wind behind him. When he turned, he saw two men wearing hats and masks who began beating him with sticks. He fought back, telling them “you’ve got the wrong person!” But the men continued silently, stopping only to flee when a passerby heard Xiao’s yells.
Xiao had a gash nearly 40 centimeters (15.7 inches) long that was so deep that bone was exposed. His legs were covered in blood and his right leg was swollen. Three months later, he had to have two operations.
Police later discovered that on Jan. 17, Miao had arranged for the general manager of an Ulanqab hotel to take three of his associates to Hohhot. Once there, the three men were instructed to follow Xiao and install a GPS tracker on his car. On Jan. 23, the three men drove to the residential district where Xiao lived, attacked him, and then met up with Miao and the hotel general manager. Miao called Zhao Chuntao and told him: It’s done. Zhao responded with, “Reward my brothers well.”
Xiao’s attack happened the night before the Central Committee announcement opening the campaign against gang violence.
The hotel general manager and the three men who beat Xiao were arrested by a special team from the Hohhot Public Security Bureau on July 5, 2018. Two days later, Miao was arrested. He confessed that Zhao had ordered him to arrange for the men to attack Xiao.
Zhao was detained by the Inner Mongolia Discipline Inspection Commission on Aug. 20. The indictment alleges that Zhao took advantage of his position to obtain unfair benefits and illegally accept huge amounts of money from others. He was also accused of hiring others to commit intentional injury, disturbing the investigation of criminal gangs by disciplinary inspection bodies and sheltering criminal gangs.
Framing a neighbor
Miao not only used brute force to punish those he decided had crossed him — he also used official channels, such as when he managed to have his neighbor Li Yongqiang sent to a detention center for five months.
Li was a 42-year-old worker in the cement plant and the plant’s property manager. Miao required all of the workers staying at the plant to pay between 23,000 yuan and 35,000 yuan to obtain their housing certificates for the homes he had been contracted to build. This upset Li and some of the other workers, and in 2017 they took the matter to the media. According to Li, Miao resented him for this and even indirectly threatened him on multiple occasions. Seeing that Li had no plans to back off, he tried to strike a deal: Miao would give Li his housing certificate for 3,000 yuan as long as he did not tell the other workers. However, this was only a delaying tactic — before long, Miao had Li sent to a detention center.
Miao’s sister Xiuying had been renting out 40 garages for profit. As three of the leases were set to expire in 2017, Li decided to take over the properties. Angered by this, Xiuying called the police to the garage and told them that the property belonged to her family. Li retorted that the garage belonged to the cement plant and that Miao had forged a signature on the official seal. The police told them to take the matter to court.
On Oct. 4 2017, the police were called again — by Miao’s nephew. “He told me fiercely: I will destroy you,” Li recalled. The deputy police chief brought the two men to the local public security bureau. Miao’s nephew was released, but Li was questioned overnight.
Later that month, Miao arranged for some of his subordinates to report false incidents and provide false evidence against Li. When the police sent Li to the hospital for a mandatory medical examination, two men claiming to be journalists from the Inner Mongolia TV station rushed over and filmed him in handcuffs. Later, he learned that Miao had been sitting in a car nearby.
On Oct. 13, Li was detained for “provoking trouble” and sent to the Ulanqab detention center. “They locked me up with murders and criminals, who stole my food and fought me. The deputy director of the center said nothing, only reprimanded me with each hit: ‘you think this is a place of reason?’” Li recalled. He was placed in solitary confinement for five days and four nights.
Li’s case was heard on Feb. 1 the next year. “I said that Miao had forged housing certificates, but the court ignored me, the prosecutor stood up and threatened me, and said if I did not plead guilty, I would be heavily punished,” Li said. Ten days later, he was sentenced to five months’ detention.
Li’s fellow inmates persuaded him not to appeal the decision. “It’s important to get out alive first,” he was told. Li’s family, too, felt they could not afford to provoke Miao.
“There are good people there, but those who have never been there can never imagine life inside,” Li said.
After Miao’s fall, Li was re-tried on Sept. 14, 2018. He was found innocent.
During Miao’s trial, he and his associates did not admit that they had taken part in criminal gang activities. Miao’s lawyers said that while he may have committed some evil acts, they were not as evil as gangs or the mafia. Miao’s associates said that they just wanted to make some money.
Contact reporter Ren Qiuyu (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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