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Cadres cash in on the mah-jong craze

PEKING - In one city, the Youth Daily reported this week, the manager of a construction company arranged a pleasant evening, playing the traditional Chinese parlour game of mah- jong, writes Teresa Poole.

Around the table sat his wife, the general manager of a state department store and the deputy director of the local government's Commercial Bureau. 'Tonight, your task is to lose,' he told his wife, thrusting 40,000 yuan ( pounds 3,000) into her hand.

And lose she did. The two guests walked away with the money and the construction company manager walked away with a redevelopment contract worth 1.2m yuan. Mah-jong - a game that is easy to play badly - has become the latest device for passing bribes, the newspaper said. 'At the end, both winners and losers are very happy,' it added.

Yesterday, Liang Guoqing, the deputy Procurator-General, admitted embezzlement and bribery were a 'serious threat' to social stability. He announced an 81 per cent increase, to 20,000, in the number of embezzlement and bribery cases under investigation in the first half of 1994, compared with the same period last year. Mr Liang said about 3,000 officials from party and government departments were involved, although he stressed that most state officials are honest. He claimed an analysis of corruption cases in 1991-3 showed that only 0.004 per cent of China's cadres had been involved in embezzlement and bribery. But official figures are widely perceived as representing only the tip of the corruption iceberg. Big financial gifts have become a feature of doing business in China.

Part of the difficulty in cracking down on graft is the lack of legal machinery. Mr Liang mentioned three new anti-corruption laws which should be adopted in 1996 and he said China advocated the 'severest' punishment for corruption. But he dismissed inquiries about the numbers who have been executed in the current crackdown.

Next year Peking is to host the seventh International Anti-Corruption Conference, Mr Liang said. According to the letters of invitation, the organisers look forward to welcoming international anti-corruption experts, scholars and officials 'in the best season of the year'.