Date: May 04 2012
Australian businesswoman Charlotte Chou has been sentenced to eight years in a Chinese jail for embezzlement and other corporate charges relating to the private university she helped found in Guangzhou.
Chou immediately told the court she would appeal against the verdict.
Dressed in a prison-issue yellow T-shirt and vest, and with her hands cuffed and feet tethered, Chou appeared calm as the verdict was handed down.
She had wanted to make a personal statement, but was cut short by the presiding judge.
Chou's lawyers have been angered by the judicial process at the Guangzhou Intermediate People's Court, including the length of time it has taken to reach this morning's verdict.
Chou has spent more than three years in detention.
The case has been mired in controversy involving feuding business partners and murky allegations of judicial bribery.
Supporters of Chou, including her family and former business partner Lin Yongping, say minority shareholder Zhu Hanbang had paid Guangzhou authorities to keep Chou in jail, in order to wrest control of the profitable university she established.
"I'm coming to understand that fairness and justice will not come my way. All I want is a quick decision," Chou said in her previous appearance court in April.
"But I will never admit I committed a crime, till my death."
Chou, a single mother, was first arrested by Guangzhou police in June 2008, while her then one-year-old boy, Lincoln, was asleep. She has not seen her son, who now lives with his grandmother, since.
She served 18 months in jail on bribery convictions, before being released.
She was immediately rearrested at the prison gate on fresh charges of embezzling millions of yuan from the South China Institute of Software Engineering.
She has maintained that the money was merely repayments of a properly documented loan.
The case bears close similarities to a separate case involving Matthew Ng, another successful Australian businessperson who fell foul of the Guangdong judicial system.
In March, Ng was sentenced to 11.5 years in jail after losing his appeal against bribery and other corporate charges involving his successful travel business, Et-China.
His lawyers have maintained the criminal case was orchestrated by a third party in an attempt to obtain the profitable Guangzhou business cheaply, after Ng rejected a buyout offer from his joint venture partner, a company owned by the Guangzhou municipal government.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard expressed her concerns over Ng's case to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao last year.
Guangdong Communist Party secretary Wang Yang, who will visit Australia next month, has also been made aware of the case.
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