'Above the law'

Al Jazeera's Melissa Chan, reporting from Beijing on Thursday, said only a few journalists from the state media were allowed inside the court.

She said the trial is expected to last three days, noting also that when a case has gone this far up the court system, it usually means there will be a conviction.

"It is a message the Chinese government is sending that even the richest man is not immune or above the law," she said.

"On the other hand, others have been talking about the possibility that he has offended a high-ranking government official or has fallen from the good graces of the state... but that is something we will never be able to find out."

The Gome founder's trial is seen as a sounding board to law enforcers and corporations [AFP]

Huang set up his home-appliances-distribution firm Gome with 30,000 yuan, or about $4,400, in the 1980s.

Gome has since become a household name, earning the founder the nickname "China's Sam Walton", a reference to the founder of US retail giant Wal-Mart.

He topped the annual Hurun Report's rankings of China's richest in 2008, 2004 and 2005.

Huang, who resigned as director and chairman of the company in January 2009, could face a maximum of 15 years in prison if convicted.

Authorities in Hong Kong, also are investigating accusations that Huang diverted money from a Gome share buyback to repay a personal loan, The Associated Press news agency reported.

Regulators say that caused Gome and its shareholders to lose nearly $207 million.