Law

Court receives warning letter from local authorities in frog compensation case

JDM100629frogs.jpg
Fu Yishun and a pig frog

It began with a die-off of pig frogs. More than 270,000 of them, according to Fu Qiang, who built his frog hatchery in a village near Chongqing in 2007.

Fu blamed the deaths on explosions carried out by a construction company doing excavations for a new industrial park that was intended to urbanize the surrounding countryside. In late 2008, before he had accepted a compensation agreement over the requisitioning of his land, the company began blasting a hillside not twenty meters away from his frog pond. Noise from the explosions disturbed the frogs’ hibernation, killing them.

Fu sued in April 2009, but the case dragged on for nearly a year before the court rejected his claim, awarding him the same compensation that the construction company had initially offered and which he had refused.

This week, The Beijing News reported on the latest development in the case: while the lawsuit was still in progress, the local government had sent an official letter to the court warning it against “going its own way.” A win for Fu, the letter said, would make dealing with other farmers more difficult.

Other unsavory aspects of the case have also come to light. Fu was labeled a “troublemaker” by town leaders, who had the police investigate him for possible ties to organized crime. One commissioner even charged Fu and three other frog farmers with running fake hatchery scams in a bid for state compensation.

The article ends by quoting a local official who is obviously frustrated at Fu’s ability to defend his rights through legal means: “If he had even a scrap of conscience left, he wouldn’t behave this way toward the People’s Government!”

Court Receives “Warning Letter” From Government Prior to Verdict

In Chongqing, the Lidu New District Regulatory Commission asks the court to reject a farmer’s claim for compensation; police investigate the farmer’s “background”
by Yang Wanguo / TBN

June 20: on uncultivated land inside the Lidu Industrial Park in Chongqing’s Peiling District, a dilapidated two-storey building stands amid overgrown weeds.

From a large pond in the center of the lot, the splash of diving frogs can occasionally be heard. Surrounding the pond, a toppled wall lies among the reeds.

The pond is a breeding ground for pig frogs (美蛙*). Once, the croaking of pig frogs was loud enough to keep neighbors awake through the night.

But later on, the neighbors were driven away by land requisitions, and at the end of last year, vast numbers of pig frogs on the farm died off due to the noise of construction site explosions. Today, the few frogs that are left in the pond occasionally poke their heads above water to give a few croaks.

Seventy-nine-year-old Fu Yishun and his wife are holding their ground on this wasteland. Though their building still stands, water and electricity have been cut off.

They will remain here until their son, Fu Qiang, concludes his lawsuit against the industrial park.

Death of the Pig Frogs

Fu Qiang, 44, is in charge of the pig frog farm.

On June 20, he explained that in 2007, he put up 200,000 RMB of his own money and took out a 130,000-RMB loan, which he used together with his father’s savings and investment from his older brother Fu Yu to build the 8.5 mu (0.57 hectare) farm.

Completed in April 2007, the farm began purchasing hundreds of breeding pairs, who were then managed by Fu Yishun.

Fu Qiang explained that pig frogs breed quickly, maturing in just three months, and that by the summer of 2008 there was a large-scale population.

Fu Yishun estimated that they would be able to sell their first batch of frogs by the end of that year. But then the situation changed.

In June 2008, the village of Shuangxi, Yihe Town, Fu Qiang resided, was incorporated under land planned for requisition by the Lidu Industrial Park. Four farms were within the area: three that raised bullfrogs, and Fu Qiang’s pig frog farm.

The Lidu Industrial Park, which had a planned area of 20 square kilometers, is a major local government project and is intended to create a “hundred-billion class” garden district.*

On June 27, 2008, the Peiling District Forestry Bureau issued a document appraising the annual production value of bullfrog farms at 11,000-22,000 RMB per mu. The other three farms accepted compensation according to this standard, but Fu Qiang considered it too low and refused.

That November, with the situation at an impasse, the Chongqing Demolition and Construction Company and the Hongchen Construction Company began blasting the hillside not 100 meters away from the pig frog farm.

Fu Yishun said that the blasts came as close as 20 meters to his frog pond. Successive blasts rocked the ground. The frogs were in hibernation at the time, and after they were shaken awake they bounded about in shock. The perimeter wall collapsed, the pond water drained out, and the frogs froze.

Fu Qiang estimates that there were nearly 300,000 pig frogs in the pond by that time. In mid-December, frogs began to die off in large numbers.

On December 19, 2008, Fu Qiang had the Environmental Monitoring Station of the Peiling District Environmental Protection Office perform a noise check of the pond’s surroundings and learned that the noise reached 88.9 decibels.

A prior case that took place in Hebei in 1992 showed that noise levels above 65 decibels could wake pig frogs from hibernation, causing death.

In February 2009, under the supervision of a notary public from the Peiling Notary Office, three randomly-chosen pig frogs were plucked from the pond and taken to the Chongqing Fisheries Technique Extension Center (水产技术推广站) for an autopsy, which found that they were not diseased.

“That can only mean that they died of shock.” Fu Qiang claims that within a month, approximately 270,000 pig frogs died, a loss of more than 2 million RMB.

A “Troublemaker” Investigated for Gang Ties

After the pig frog deaths, Fu Qiang sought compensation from the two construction companies. They both claimed that they had obtained permits from public security agencies to conduct blasting in the industrial park, which meant that they assumed no responsibility.

On April 14, 2009, Fu Qiang sued the two companies in the Peiling District Court, seeking more than 2.55 million RMB in compensation.

On November 12 of that year, while the lawsuit was going on, the Peiling District Forestry Bureau issued a new document which provided a reference compensation value of 18,000-36,000 RMB per mu for bullfrog and pig frog farms.

According to this standard, Fu Qiang would be compensated 250,000 RMB. He did not accept this sum. He felt that there was a high degree of randomness in the two Forestry Bureau documents, and that they conflated the value of bullfrogs and pig frogs.

On June 20, Fu Qiang said that the farm had a special meaning for him, because it was the symbol that “the prodigal son had returned.” He had once been a construction foreman, and in 1998 was sentenced to twelve years in prison for “illegally dealing in firearms.”

In April 2006, Fu Qiang was released from prison on a reduced sentence. He said that a friend then helped him find some projects to earn money. Afterward he began to build the frog farm.

Fu Qiang said that because his frog pond had all its documents in order, the regulatory commission, which could not make an issue out of it, therefore dug up his “priors.” Local government officials claimed that he was a “troublemaker who liked to throw his weight around” by “blackmailing the government.”

During an interview on June 22, Deng Zhongya, vice-chair of the Lidu New District Regulatory Commission, repeatedly returned to the statement, “Fu Qiang has a criminal record and is absolutely not an ordinary farmer.”

Fu Qiang said that the effects of Chongqing’s campaign against organized crime led the regulatory commission to hope that police would investigate his possible gang connections. Over a short period at the end of last year, he was called to the local station four or five times. “They were monitoring me. I had to answer my phone at all hours of the day to report my whereabouts to the police.”

The Peiling police confirmed that they had conducted an investigation of Fu, but they refused to discuss specifics.

The “World’s Greatest Official Letter” Comes to Light

On June 14, 2009, the Peiling District Court tasked the Judicial Appraisal Office at Southwest University with determining the cause of death of the frogs at the Yihe Pig Frog Farm.

Fu Qiang said that the court had attempted to mediate several times in the hopes that he would accept 300,000 RMB in compensation. He said that the judges advised him that the judicial appraisal would cost money, and that he would receive no compensation at all if the results showed that the demolition company was not responsible.

In August 2009, the appraisal document was released. It said that the demolition company was the cause of the pig frog die-off, and it valued the farm’s losses at 630,000 RMB.

Fu Qiang anticipated victory, but the court held five successive sessions without reaching a verdict.

He said that when he spoke to the court, a judge said, “The industrial park and the district government have intervened, so we can’t issue a verdict.”

The Peiling District Court finally issued its verdict on March 2, 2010. It rejected the conclusion of the Southwest University Judicial Appraisal Office and awarded compensation of 300,000 RMB, in line with the defendant’s estimate.

Fu Qiang was unconvinced and had his lawyer He Enquan file an appeal.

He Enquan explained that as he was consulting Intermediate Court files in the course of preparing materials for the appeal, he happened to discover an official letter from the Lidu New District Regulatory Commission addressed to the Peiling District Court.

“No wonder the industrial park warned us that our lawsuit was doomed. That’s the source of the mystery,” Fu Qiang said.

He posted a portion of the letter to the Internet, where netizens called it “the world’s greatest official letter.”

The official letter taken from court records amounts to four pages and is dated October 15, 2009.

From the letter:

The (court of the) first instance must not accept the appraisal’s mistaken conclusion as valid. It should reject the plaintiff’s claim....if the court of the first instance does not adopt our opinion but goes its own way, or if for some other reason it insists on basing its verdict on the aforementioned mistaken conclusion….it will result in the plaintiff filing frivolous lawsuits or petitions to higher authorities, and would be detrimental to handling the complaints of the other three farms. We think that this is not an outcome that the first and second instance courts desire to see!

Regulator Commission Claims It Merely Expressed an Opinion

On the official letter was a “comment” from Huang Jianquan, deputy-director of the Peiling District Court: Have the case administrators read and deal with.

On June 21, Huang Jianquan acknowledged that he had put his signature on the official letter. He claimed that the letter had been picked up from the door-frame of his office. As for why a “picked-up” letter had been included in the case file, Huang had no answer.

Another administrator in the same office said that the official letter had come from Liu Shengrong, vice-chair of the Lidu New District Regulatory Commission. He said that such materials were typically placed in supplemental files, and that someone at the court must have made a mistake by placing it in the main file.

Open records show that Liu Shengrong was formerly a judge with the Chongqing Third Intermediate Court. When the Lidu New District Regulatory Commission was established, Liu was reassigned to be vice-chair and is in charge of land requisitions, demolitions, and legal affairs.

On June 22, Liu acknowledged to this reporter that he had organized the writing of the letter on behalf of the regulatory commission: “We were only expressing the opinion of the government. What’s wrong with that?”

As for the letter’s request that the court reject the plaintiff’s claim, Liu said, “It was up to the court whether or not to listen.”

On June 21, Yan Tinghai, the judge in charge of the case, said that he did not remember the letter, nor did he recall if it had influenced the verdict.

On June 22, Lidu New District Regulatory Commission vice-chair Deng Zhongya, who is also deputy director of the Peiling District Land and Resources Bureau, acknowledged that the government had gotten involved in the dispute between Fu Qiang and the demolition company because it had permitted the company to set off explosives, and should the company be found liable, the government would end up paying the price.

He said that Peiling District was undergoing an urbanization process. The government had put a substantial amount of thought toward farmers’ interests, and in land requisitions, it offered compensation at the upper end of the standard issued by the Forestry Bureau. Still, the farmers had “insatiable greed.”

A “Moral” Battle

On June 22, Deng Zhongya said that the notion that the four farms had gotten rich through raising frogs was false, and that the truth was that they had scrambled to build frog ponds before the land was requisitioned in order to obtain state compensation.

He claimed that the farms had never had many frogs in the first place. Because frogs were hidden beneath the water, their value was difficult to assess, giving the farmers a way to obtain state compensation.

“They took advantage of a legal loophole, and the Forestry Bureau, in its confusion, issued them aquaculture licenses. At the government, we could only grind our teeth to bits and swallow the shards.” Deng said that Fu Qiang had moral problems.

He complained to this reporter, “If he had even a scrap of conscience left, he wouldn’t behave this way toward the People’s Government!”

Fu Qiang said that once the Regulatory Commission’s official letter interfering in the judiciary was brought to light, “They raised it to a moral level and started slapping labels on me.”

“I have all of the permits for my frog farm. I am protecting my rights entirely within the law. How am I angling for state compensation?” Fu Qiang said that they had heard about the construction of an industrial park in the nearby town of Lidu, but they imagined that it would be five or six years before it expanded to Yihe, instead of the year it took for the village of Shuangxi to be incorporated within the industrial park. “Our motive was always to make money by raising frogs.”

Liu Wei, of Group #4 in Shuangxi Village, said that he had seen lots of pig frogs on Fu Qiang’s farm in 2008: “It was thick with them. They were all over the place.” Zhang Jiandong, from the same village, also said that the pig frogs on Fu Qiang’s farm “were incredibly numerous,” and that on summer nights their croaking was an assault on the ear. He had cursed Fu Qiang because it affected his sleep.

Wang Tianrong, branch secretary for Shuangxi, said that the four farms “truly were raising frogs.” He said that in 2007, the Yihe town government had energetically promoted aquaculture as part of agricultural reform in the countryside. The village had encouraged Fu Qiang to go into aquaculture. When the frog farm was first established, the Yihe town head and other leaders had made an inspection tour, giving it “unanimous approval.”

Fu Qiang is now awaiting the results of the second court case. As for whether the “official letter” that was included in the intermediate court’s records will influence the judges, Fu Qiang said, “I’m not sure.”

But Deng Zhongya said that Fu Qiang is “punching holes” in the law. He exclaimed, “If all farmers were so good at using the law, then there’s no question that the government would face even higher demands as it carries out the law.”


Notes

  • 美蛙 is short for 美国青蛙, “American green frog.” Wikipedia describes pig frogs (Rana grylio) as being similar to bullfrogs.
  • 千亿级: Real estate sales measured in the hundreds of billions of RMB.
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