Cleaner cleared of gold 'theft'

By Hu Yongqi
China Daily

The case against an airport cleaner detained for more than nine months after she took home a jewelry box she found next to a bin has been dropped, police confirmed on the weekend.

Liang Li, 40, received a notice from Shenzhen Airport public security bureau on Saturday informing her the lawsuit against her was scrapped.

"It's finally over and it proves I was not a thief from the very beginning," a relieved Liang told China Daily yesterday.

The bureau's criminal investigation chief surnamed Chen said the Shenzhen procuratorate had opted not to proceed with prosecution.

The authorities decided they had inadequate evidence of theft on Sept 25, so Liang had instead been accused of "illegal possession", which, under Chinese law, can only be sued by the owner of the property.

However, Jinlong Jewelry, owners of the jewelry, had already dismissed the idea of prosecuting Liang as she had returned the goods.

Liang's husband, Liu Jianhua, was also upset it had taken the airport authorities so long to end their nightmare.

"It came as no surprise. She admitted her mistake and the procuratorate made the decision on Sept 25. It shouldn't take so long to make the final decision. My wife was in custody for more than nine months," he said.

"They reveal their decisions on the last day of the deadline, always. But they didn't think of my wife."

Liang is now talking with her lawyer, Si Xianli, about applying for compensation from the State for the distress caused during her nine-month detention. However, Si said it may not be possible as the procuratorate says she committed "illegal possession".

Liang was released on bail three weeks ago to undergo surgery at Shenzhen's Tongren Hospital to remove a tumor from her womb. She is now recovering at home and is in a stable condition.

Liang was earning 1,000 yuan ($150) a month as a cleaner at Shenzhen Airport when she picked up a 14-kg box containing jewelry worth 3 million yuan on Dec 9 last year. The box had been left behind by a man surnamed Wang, police said.

Liang reportedly found the box near a bin in the departures hall and, assuming someone had forgotten it, loaded it onto her cart.

She told police she took the box into the toilets and, with the help of two colleagues, opened it, revealing an assortment of gold jewelry. Her colleagues took some of the items and Liang took the rest home once her shift ended. One hour later, police arrived to collect the box and take her into custody.

Police claimed Liang's actions constituted theft, an offence that carries a maximum punishment of life in prison.

October 12, 2009 — Return to cover.