When armed police a year ago searched the mansion of Lieutenant General Gu Junshan of China’s People’s Liberation Army, they seized three symbolic items along with dozens of others: a wash basin for fortune, a model boat for luck, and a statue of Chairman Mao.
All three were made of gold.
The seizures, including several cases of Moutai, a sorghum-based spirit served on luxurious occasions, came to light this week in a report by the publication Caixin, which specializes in investigative journalism. Caixin cited anonymous sources.
Gu was arrested by authorities in January 2012 and put under investigation. Since then, few details have emerged. This rare exposure of the extravagant possessions Gu accumulated while he was managing land owned by the Army has renewed popular interest in his case.
The Chinese Army controls plenty of property—and has unloaded a lot of it over the years. By 2009, the PLA had sold as much as 30 billion yuan ($5 billion) of real estate holdings, the Chinese state press reported that year. Sales included land in central Beijing that private developers later turned into Diaoyutai No. 7, a row of apartment buildings carrying a price tag of as much as 300,000 yuan ($50,000) per square meter in 2011.
According to the Caixin report, the Army had taken that property from a state enterprise in the name of conducting “science research.” It’s unclear whether Gu gained anything in the transaction. Regardless, the detail prompted this comment from one reader: “Holy Cow! The army is so powerful that it can find such an easy excuse to grab land!”
President Xi Jinping has moved to strip the military of some privileges, including luxury cars. Last month he banned drinking at receptions for military officials and warned against handling land improperly. Other military perks, including universal free parking and an exemption from tolls on roads, still rankle many.
Then there’s the Moutai, which has a market price of as much as 2,158 yuan ($356) a bottle. The crates of it authorities found in Gu’s house were a special supply for the military, according to Caixin’s report.
Regarding real estate, Caixin reported that Gu once got a 6 percent kickback on a 2 billion-yuan sale of military land in Shanghai. In downtown Beijing, he owned dozens of apartments and planned to use them as gifts, Caixin said, citing unnamed sources.
Are any of those apartments in Diaoyutai No. 7? In online comments on Caixin’s website, readers clamored for a public trial that might give more answers. Chinese leaders will decide whether that will happen.