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Tuesday, April 28, 1998 Published at 17:43 GMT 18:43 UK


Chinese officials lose their mobiles
image: [ Mobile phones - demonstrated here by Chinese Vice President Hu Jintao - are taking China by storm ]
Mobile phones - demonstrated here by Chinese Vice President Hu Jintao - are taking China by storm

The authorities in a northern Chinese city have confiscated more than 10,000 mobile telephones which had been illegally bought by local officials using public funds. One official in a nearby county was sacked for distributing 70 mobile phones to his friends, family and staff. The official People's Daily newspaper said the crackdown retrieved estimated losses of $600,000. The illegal use of mobile phones is one of the targets of a government anti-corruption campaign, as Duncan Hewitt reports from Beijing:

China had more than 13m mobile telephone users last year and the numbers are growing fast, almost doubling in the capital Beijing in the course of 1997.

Film stars, including the actress Gong Li, have been recruited by telephone manufacturers to add glamour to their products and according to the People's Daily newspaper, the lure of modern communications proved too much for some local officials in the northern city of Shijiazhuang, west of Beijing.

The paper said a crackdown by city authorities netted some 10,000 mobile phones, many of which had been illegally purchased and distributed to friends and relatives.

Many officials had also illegally installed phones in their own homes.

In one case in nearby Luancheng county, the head of the local power supply bureau bought 70 phones and used them to try to bribe superiors, as well as to reward favoured staff.

Chinese television said some workers were given mobile phones even though they spent the whole day working in an office. The official was sacked from his job and stripped of his Communist Party membership.

With China's new prime minister Zhu Rongji calling for an end to official extravagence of all kinds, the People's Daily praised the crackdown as a model.

But the case is a reminder not just of the appeal of mobile telephones in a country where communications networks have traditionally been under-developed, but also of the growing temptations for poorly-paid officials to take advantage of their positions.

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