The beauty whose sexual services were used to bribe Chongqing officials claims she was brainwashed by her construction firm boss into participating in his scheme to videotape her encounters to use for later extortion.
Zhao Hongxia is the woman, aged either 30 or 26, who was arrested Thursday for having allegedly lured men into having sex with her so they could be secretly videotaped and blackmailed. The tapes were made several years ago while she was an employee and lover of Chongqing construction firm boss Xiao Ye accused of masterminding the scheme.
“She told me she was brainwashed and was told she could help improve the company’s performance by doing this,” said Zhao’s lawyer Zhang Zhiyong of Chongqing’s Zhihao Law Firm in a phone interview.
The scheme, which involved other young women as well as Zhao, is thought to have induced at least 25 local officials into sending lucrative construction contracts to Xiao’s firm. So far 11 senior Chongqing officials and executives at state-run firms have been fired as a result of the scandal that became public in November when some of the videos were posted by Beijing citizen journalist Zhu Ruifeng. Zhu has claimed to have evidence that 38 officials and executives were videotaped by Xiao.
Since the scandal broke Zhao has become an internet celebrity. She is currently married and has a child, according to reliable sources cited by various media. The curiosity about Zhao became so intense that a number of photos purporting to be of her were posted online, then shown to be fakes. The only reportedly authentic photo of Zhao was posted online earlier this week. It shows only a portion of the left side of her face.
Zhao began working for Xiao shortly after meeting him in 2007. At that time she was either 24 or as young as 18, according to those who dispute the 1982 birthday on her ID card. Zhao was one of Xiao’s lovers as well as a member of the stable of young women used to bribe officials with sex as well as to set them up for future blackmail. The scheme is said to have netted Xiao a fortune in lucrative municipal construction contracts.
The most famous victim of Xiao’s scheme is Lei Zhengfu, party chief of Chongqing’s Beipei district who was fired from his post last November just three days after the scandal broke and will be tried on corruption charges. At that time Zhao was billed as an 18-year-old.
In 2009 Lei and other officials first got wind of the videotapes of their sexual encounters with Xiao and other women. They asked higher officials to intervene to keep the tapes from becoming public. A testament to the ability of China’s officialdom to protect their own is the fact that the tapes remained in police hands until they were leaked to Zhu only in November, several months after former Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai was ousted.
Recent news stories suggest China’s public remains highly skeptical of official intentions toward those implicated in the sex tapes scandal. One reason is that police have denied that Zhu, the Beijing whistleblower, obtained the tapes from police. Instead, they claim he obtained them from Xu Sheqin, one of the suspects they say was involved in the blackmail ring. Xu had a money dispute in November with Xiao, the ringleader, and retaliated by giving the videos to Zhu, they allege. Zhu has said he got only one of the tapes from Xu but obtained six others from a source inside the Chongqing police department.
Chongqing police visited him in Beijing to demand release of the tapes, Zhu alleged. He refused on the ground that they were merely seeking to use them to learn the identity of the leak. Police have said they simply want to get more evidence with which to file charges against all those implicated in the scandal.
Zhu has been aggressively leveraging the sex tapes to shine the spotlight on official corruption. He has fingered the board chairman of a state-owned company based in Chongqing as another corrupt official that has yet to be fired.
“There is still some evidence [about more corrupt officials involved in the scandal] in my hands, and I will make them public after my investigation and verification,” Zhu has written on his microblog.
Zhu had been arrested earlier this week at his Beijing home and taken to Chongqing for questioning. He has since been released. He has claimed that Chongqing authorities have destroyed much of the evidence that would implicate other officials involved in the scandal in order to limit the scandal to the 11 officials who have been brought down already and not let it move higher up the ladder.
“We’ve made it clear from the start of the scandal that every official involved will be investigated and punished if found guilty of discipline or law violations,” said an official from Chongqing’s Party Discipline Inspection Commission Thursday in rebuttal to Zhu’s allegations.
So far, in addition to Lei’s firing in November, on January 25 10 mid-level Chongqing officials, including district- and county-level Party chiefs and board chairmen at state-owned firms, were also fired.
Chongqing police also announced that they had broken up a criminal ring suspected of hiring women to seduce officials for later extortion. Several alleged members of the ring have been arrested or placed under house arrest, they said earlier this week.
Zhao, the star of the November sex tape, may end up appearing in more videos as she is said to have been taped with five others five senior Chongqing officials. China’s netizens are even calling her a heroine for her role, albeit unintended, in exposing official corruption in such an effective way as to engage and move the government to take action against the nation’s leading problem.