Wu Ying, an entrepreneur from Zhejiang province, founded Bense Group in 2005 and by 2006 was ranked by the Hurun Report as the sixth-richest woman in China. In February 2007, she was formally arrested for illegal fundraising and was sentenced to death for fraud in December 2009. The provincial high court upheld her sentence on appeal and submitted it to the Supreme People’s Court for authorisation.
Wu Ying’s case shed light on the application of the death penalty to a wide range of economic crimes and led to calls for legal reform, particularly because the illegal fundraising she was convicted of could also be viewed as the sort of underground financing that may be the only option available to private businesses shut out by the state-run banking monopoly. Wu also admitted to bribing officials, but because bribery is not a capital crime, popular opinion held that the court imposed the sentence partially to prevent the investigation escalating to include the more than one hundred officials who had allegedly lent her over half a million yuan each.
Speaking at a press conference on 14 March 2012, then Premier Wen Jiabao noted approvingly that the Supreme People’s Court had taken a ‘cautious approach’ to her case, a remark interpreted as nudging the court toward a reprieve. The court issued a narrow ruling quashing the original sentence on the grounds that Wu had co-operated with investigators, although it affirmed the particulars of the lower court rulings. On 21 May 2012, the Zhejiang court sentenced Wu Ying to death with a two-year stay of execution.