China billionaire reportedly arrested over child molestation

Prosecutors in Shanghai have formally arrested two people over child molestation allegations, with state media identifying one as a prominent real estate developer.

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The case has received prominent coverage in state media, including on national broadcaster CCTV Thursday, highlighting what is believed to be a widespread but underreported crime affecting millions of children in China.

A brief notice on the Shanghai prosecutor’s office’s microblog said the Putuo district branch had ordered the formal arrest Wednesday of two people, identified only by their surnames, Wang and Zhou.

The official Communist Party newspaper Global Times identified Wang as Wang Zhenhua, formerly chairman of Seazen, one of China’s largest developers. The company announced that Wang’s son Wang Xiaosong had been appointed chairman in his place after the father resigned “for personal reasons.”

That announcement came on the same day that Shanghai police reported Wang and Zhou had been detained and an investigation opened into allegations that a girl had been molested at a hotel in Shanghai.

Police cited the girl’s mother as saying that Zhou, 49, had taken her daughter from Jiangsu province to Shanghai on June 30. Zhou surrendered to police on July 2, a day after Wang, 57, was placed under investigation.

The Shanghai city’s official government advisory body announced Monday it had expelled Wang Zhenhua, depriving him of political connections that could affect any future prosecution.

On its website, Seazen issued a lengthy apology that said in part, “We, just like the public, believe that minors are the future. Anything that harms a minor is a severe offense. Seazen absolutely supports and agrees with the authorities in handling this case.”

Child molestation can be punished by up to 5 years in prison, although longer sentences can be issued for additional charges. Chinese media in recent years have reported cases of children being attacked by teachers, relatives and neighbors, although a reluctance to report such incidents by children and their family members, and a lack of resources for conducting investigations, have limited prosecutions to just a few thousand cases per year

Among the most vulnerable are the estimated 69 million children left with grandparents or other relatives in rural areas after their parents move to cities to find work.

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