Prosecutors said by the time the scam had been exposed in 2005 and the companies had been shut down, only $1.2m of the $385m invested in the scheme had been recovered.
 
One investor in the scheme reportedly committed suicide after realising he had been duped.
 
In his defence, Wang said he did not know the first thing about raising ants and was "quite unclear" about the costs, the Beijing News said.
 
Fifteen managers of Wang’s bogus companies were also given prison terms ranging from five to 10 years and fined between $13,000 and $64,000, Xinhua said.
 
Fake investments and other get-rich-quick schemes have become an increasingly common feature in China as the country continues its rapid transition from a planned economy to a free market.
 
Chinese leaders have tried to eradicate the scams, fearing widespread losses could fuel already simmering social unrest.