In a China awash with fake iPhones, pirated DVDs and knock-off Louis Vuitton bags, rice trader Lin Chunping took fakery to a whole new level: He invented a US bank and claimed he bought it.
The little-known businessman shot to fame in January when state media reported that he had taken over Delaware-based Atlantic Bank.
The acquisition brought him praise: His home town gave him a prestigious political appointment and state media called his business experience “legendary”.
The only thing that may have been legendary is Lin’s audacity. Not only did he not buy Atlantic Bank in Delaware for 60 million dollars as he claimed, but there is no Atlantic Bank in that state.
Chinese reporters could not locate an Atlantic Bank or a bank registration by Lin in Delaware. He is now under arrest for an unrelated fraud and has been forced to give up his municipal-level appointment to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the government’s top advisory body.
The 41-year-old’s short, spectacular rise and fall shows how fakery has evolved in China, morphing from the manufacture of copycat goods to entire institutions and careers.
Last year, officials found five fake Apple stores in the south-western city of Kunming.
In early June, local press in eastern Shandong province exposed a fake university. Students who did not score high enough on the national college entrance exam to make it into university received sham admission letters to the Shandong Institute of Light Industry, a real school.
Zinch China, the Chinese arm of US-based educational networking site Zinch.com, estimates that 90% of recommendation letters to US schools are fake, that 70% of the essays are written by someone else and that half the transcripts are fabricated.
Lin told Chinese reporters that it took him two years to negotiate the purchase of the US bank, and that the bank had declared bankruptcy in 2008 because of the financial crisis. To add more flair to the story, Lin told reporters that the bank had been running for 85 years and was run by Jews, who are stereotypically seen by many Chinese as having superior business skills.
Lin’s story was particularly captivating because overseas acquisitions are a point of pride in China, showcasing its rising economic power. Lin’s supposed purchase of an American bank signalled both Chinese triumph and US decline.
His claims also cheered his home town, the eastern city of Wenzhou, which was reeling from a government-imposed credit crunch that had ruined some highly leveraged entrepreneurs, some of whom fled the city and their debts. A few committed suicide.
The story attracted so much attention that Chinese journalists familiar with US banking regulations checked into the legitimacy of Lin’s claims.
When his non-existent bank was exposed, Lin said he made “exaggerations” to raise his social status and to win future opportunities in banking.