Chinese police have arrested a number of suspects and frozen funds over a growing bank scandal that has sparked rare public protests in central Henan province, according to an official notice posted late on Sunday.
The arrests come after four banks in Henan froze millions of deposits in April, leaving individuals and firms unable to access their funds until now.
Angry depositors gathered outside the People’s Bank of China in the city of Zhengzhou on Sunday demanding their money back, following similar demonstrations in May and June.
Videos circulating online showed hundreds of demonstrators, some of whom were holding banners accusing local officials and police of corruption, being surrounded by police and beaten by identified men wearing white.
Henan police said the suspects had controlled a number of banks through a group company and used third-party financial product platforms and their own firm to collect deposits and sell financial products, according to the notice posted on the social media platform WeChat.
The criminal organisation then made fictitious loans as a way to illegally transfer the funds, the notice said.
Control of dissent
The banking and insurance regulator in Henan also said late on Sunday that it was expediting plans to deal with the crisis and “protect the legal rights and interests of the broader public”.
The protests since May have involved hundreds of people demanding access to tens of billions of yuan in savings.
Some protesters accused authorities of colluding with the banks by exploiting the country’s COVID health pass to keep them away from public spaces.
Last month, authorities in Zhengzhou punished five officials for changing the health codes of more than 1,300 customers to control their movements.
Public protests are relatively rare in China, where dissent is tightly controlled by the ruling Communist Party. Chinese who do take to the streets risk arrest and prosecution in the country’s opaque judicial system, which critics say lacks independence from Beijing.