The life of Wu Ying, a 31-year-old ex-rich list woman now on death row, is in balance. Wu, a secondary school dropout who stitched together a 4-billion yuan business empire before she turned 27, was accused of engaging in illegal fund-raising and sentenced to death in 2009.
Her case is now with the Supreme People's Court, which is the final appellate authority in China to confirm a death sentence. In an unusual development, the court said on Tuesday that a judicial review of Wu's death sentence will be conducted based on facts and according to the law, China Daily reported.
The Daily says the top court does not make such statements in matters involving death penalty. Neither does the country's criminal code specify an exact time window for the top court's final review of the case.
The latest development will give Wu, and thousands of people who believe the death sentence was too harsh a punishment for her crimes, a temporary respite.
In 2011, she had lost a serious chance when an appeal court in Zhejiang refused to throw out the death sentence.
Wu's case has already attracted a lot of public interest both within China and outside, because of the many ambiguities involved. There are still unanswered questions in the case, such as the exact amount of money involved, which could make her ineligible for the death sentence under the criminal code, China Daily quoted a prominent lawyer as saying.
In 2011, the Economist ran a story on her case with a headline that read: When fund-raising is a crime: A death sentence for a young businesswoman chills entrepreneurs.
After dropping out of school Wu started a string of beauty parlors, a business which soon expanded into spas, hotels and property. Very soon she was on the rich lists and was hailed as a model for aspiring business people from small time Chinese cities.
She was detained in 2007 and charged with “illegal fund-raising”. The case against her was that she raised 770 million yuan ($122 million) from 11 lenders from 2005 to 2007 outside of the official system. She allegedly raised the money by promising high returns for investors.
What she was convicted of was raising and pooling money outside the official system, which is common among Chinese entrepreneurs, the economist wrote in 2011. The article pointed out that it was unclear why she was singled out this way when raising funds outside the official sources was a common practice.
China’s entrepreneurs are left with plenty to worry about. Many have to rely on a form of financing that now seems to be interpreted by the courts as a grave crime.