Lanzhou Loan Sharks to Blame for 89 Suicides

By Joshua Cawthorpe, March 30, 2021

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A new documentary about a group of loan sharks in Gansu province revealed that 89 victims had committed suicide to avoid debilitating debt.

The large criminal enterprise, based in Lanzhou, was reportedly dismantled in 2019 by authorities after extorting a RMB2.8 billion profit through high-interest loans.

Court documents show that the gang sometimes inflated interest rates as high as 5,200%, trapping borrowers in impossible debt.

According to a CCTV documentary, titled ‘Sweeping Gangsters and Evil-For the National Peace and People’s Security,’ the syndicate provided loans to more than 390,000 people.

In the documentary, a video message is shown of a young man apologizing to his parents before killing himself. In the video, he says, “Everyday, everyday, everyday repaying. Mom, Dad, if I get another life I will work like a horse, but I just can’t take it anymore. I want to die sooner to be free sooner.”

Suicide video – note to parents. Screengrab via QQ

High-interest, short-term lending generally targets young and low-income borrowers who need the money for urgent expenses or basic necessities. According to Chinese law, the maximum allowable interest on a private loan is 24% per year, as cited by China Daily.

Episode two of the documentary, released Saturday on CCTV, recounts the investigation and eventual arrest of 38-year old ringleader Wang Tao and 252 other suspects in March 2019 by Lanzhou police. 

An additional 1,300 websites and mobile apps were shut down as a result of the case against the Lanzhou loan sharks. Wang was sentenced to life in prison.

The investigation was part of a nationwide push to squeeze out organized crime that was invigorated in 2018.

In 2019, Chinese lawmakers determined that using threats or harassment to recover debts should be considered ‘soft violence.’

Since April 2019, soft violence has legally included throwing feces, stalking, harassment and menacing group behavior like wearing matching outfits and playing funeral music outside someone’s home or business.

Gansu made headlines earlier in 2017 when a man, surnamed Yang, targeted female college students for a similar loan racket, as reported by China Daily

Yang approached the women through social media and enticed financially vulnerable women into borrowing money. 

As collateral for the loans, Yang required the women to provide a naked photo holding their personal identification card. If the women failed to pay back the loans, Yang threatened to put their photos online. He also purportedly requested sexual services to those who failed to pay back loans on time.

[Cover image: screengrab via QQ]

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