On the 21st of September a court in Nanjing accepted a case filed by high-profile Chinese philanthropist Chen Guangbiao against financial news portal Caixin, one day after the website published a special report accusing Chen of fraud.
Chen requested that the court immediately order Caixin to cease publishing articles or remarks that jeopardise his rights to his name and reputation, according to a report by Xinhua News Agency. Moreover, he also demanded that Caixin pay damages of 1 million yuan ($150,078).
“The articles recently published on caixin.com have spread vicious gossip and have fabricated untruthful information, causing a bad impact on Chen Guangbiao and his company” claimed a statement released last Wednesday on Chen’s Sina Weibo account.
Chen Guangbiao is a famous and controversial Chinese philanthropist. It is claimed that the total sum of his philanthropic donations, which spanned from 1998 to 2012, exceeds 2 billion Yuan, and that he has assisted over 700,000 people living in poverty. His rescue efforts and donations after the Wenchuan earthquake in 2008 were also highly praised by then Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. Since then he has been often glorified as China’s top philanthropist.
Some of his philanthropic initiatives outside of Mainland China have proved controversial, however. In 2011 Chen once tried to hand out 10,000 yuan to each of 400 poor families in Taiwan, but the initiative was finally called off after being called “a kind of philanthropic violence”.
In 2004, Chen Guangbiao published an advertisement in the New York Times stating that he would treat 1,000 homeless Americans to a lunch at a luxury restaurant in Manhattan and give them a bonus of 300 dollars each. In the end however only 250 homeless were treated to the lunch and no bonus was given, causing a protest at the scene.
“I don’t think he is a top Chinese charity icon. Rather, he is the country’s biggest conman,” Xu Yongguang, chair of the Narada Foundation, a private foundation that provides disaster relief and helps the children of migrant workers access education, told Caixin. Chen did donate to Narada, but only to get more for himself, Xu said, adding that Chen had “morally hijacked society”.
According to the report that provoked the lawsuit, the details Chen gave about his 2010 donations to the China Philanthropy Times in January 2011 state that he donated over 300 million yuan in that year alone, arousing public doubts about the authenticity of all the subsequent data Chen submitted.
Chen also claimed in his autobiography to have funded the establishment of a total of 52 schools over the years through donations to the China Youth Development Foundation. However, Caixin’s investigation uncovered that Chen was not responsible for providing foundational funding to any schools, a fact confirmed by the charity organisation itself.
Additionally the report revealed that Chen had previously asked others to transfer donations to his personal bank account, something that constitutes illegal fundraising, said Xu.
On the 23rd of September Chen Guangbiao organised a press conference at his company’s headquarters under the name ‘let the evidence speak’, in response to the public doubts about his philanthropic credentials. During the press conference Chen tried to convince the public by presenting substantial proof. Several media outlets that attended claimed however that the event simply raised more questions for the public.
The press conference lasted 40 minutes, during which Chen Guangbiao refused to reply to any questions from the media, with the argument that it was not a Q & A session. It was reported that Chen invited around 200 of his company’s business distributors and only around 10 journalists to the conference.
At the conference Chen claimed that 99% of his donations have already been received and the remaining 1% are being paid in instalments, and that his company doesn’t owe any debts. He concluded by saying that he takes responsibility for his own words. The most striking item to be presented at the conference were his proof of donations, but the journalists were not allowed to take a close look.
In March this year, at least 170 counterfeit seals of various philanthropic organisations and other fake objects were found by the police at Chen Guangbiao’s company. In response to that, Chen reaffirmed that the blame is on the former deputy manager who transferred project contracts for unlawful profit, and he was not conscious of that. In order to prove his innocence, he presented the report documents of the case to the police.