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China charges Australian with embezzlement: Canberra

Fake gold scam hits Hong Kong goldsmiths: report
Hong Kong (AFP) Dec 2, 2010 - Hong Kong's myriad jewellers and pawn shops have been hammered by a gold scam after unwittingly buying hundreds of ounces of bogus bullion, a report said Thursday. The Financial Times described the swindle as "one of the most sophisticated scams to hit the Chinese territory's gold market in decades", and comes as the price of gold sits around record highs around 1,400 US dollars an ounce. "It's a very good fake," Haywood Cheung, president of the Chinese Gold & Silver Exchange Society, Hong Kong's gold exchange, told the newspaper. Cheung told the FT that jewellers and pawn shops in the gold-mad city have discovered at least 200 ounces of fake bullion -- worth about 280,000 US dollars -- so far this year.

But he estimated that 10 times that figure could be making its way through the city's retail market, the paper said. Among the fakes was a specimen with pure gold coating that masked a complex alloy with similar properties to the precious metal, suggesting fraudsters used sophisticated techniques and equipment, according to the report. The fakes are difficult to detect by sight or touch, and are usually revealed by high-tech tests involving high temperatures and chemicals, the report said. The Luk Fook Group, one of the city's biggest jewellers, was also tricked into buying almost 12,000 US dollars worth of fake gold until it discovered the scam and alerted its retail stores, the paper said. "This was the biggest hit ever," Paul Law, the company's executive director, told the FT. The scam targeted the sale of scrap gold to jewellers, not the bigger market for gold bars which is more rigorously controlled, the paper said.
by Staff Writers
Sydney (AFP) Dec 2, 2010
The Australian boss of a travel company based in southern China has been charged with embezzlement, foreign ministry officials in Canberra said Thursday, stressing their "strong interest" in his case.

Et-China chief executive Matthew Ng was formally charged on Tuesday, a foreign office spokeswoman told AFP, two weeks after he was detained in the southern city of Guangzhou on suspicion of "misappropriating company assets".

"The Australian Government is monitoring developments closely to ensure due legal process is followed," the spokeswoman said.

"The Australian consulate-general in Guangzhou has raised the Australian government's strong interest in the case at senior levels of the Guangdong (provincial) government,' she added.

Police in Guangzhou said in a statement faxed to AFP that the case against the 44-year-old Ng was still under investigation.

Ng's case comes just months after four employees of Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto, including Australian passport-holder Stern Hu, were jailed in China on bribery and trade secrets charges.

The spokeswoman stressed that Ng's charges "relate to embezzlement and are very different to the ones faced by Mr Hu, which related to bribery and theft of commercial secrets."

Hu's trial strained relations between Beijing and Canberra, and stoked concerns among foreign investors about the rule of law in China.

Consular officials had visited Ng last month and would see him again on December 7, the spokeswoman said, adding that officials would "continue to monitor his welfare".

London-listed Et-China issued a statement in support of Ng following his detention and said it would be seeking "an early resolution of this matter to enable him to resume his role as chief executive officer as soon as possible".

Chinese media have said Ng's detention could be linked to his role in Et-China's acquisition of domestic travel agency GZL, one of the largest leisure travel companies in southern China.

Et-China was reportedly involved in a legal battle with Lingnan Group, a Guangzhou government-owned travel company, over control of GZL.

Ng helped found Et-China in 2000 and previously worked as an investment banker in Australia, New Zealand and Southeast Asia, according to a profile on the company's website.

earlier related report
Wal-Mart targets low-income consumers in China: report
Beijing (AFP) Dec 2, 2010 - Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, has launched a no-frills store format in China targeting low-income and rural consumers, a report said Thursday.

The US chain has opened a "compact hypermarket" in the eastern province of Jiangxi that is expected to be the first of a series of stores using a bare-bones model developed in Latin America, the Financial Times said.

Compared with the retailer's larger outlets, the new stores will be smaller and have basic decoration such as cement floors and brick walls, the report said, citing the chief executive of Wal-Mart's international business.

"It is going to help us reach more people... not only in urban markets but also reaching people in rural areas," Doug McMillon was quoted as saying.

The new compact hypermarket in Zhangshu city is just over 3,437 square metres (37,000 square feet) and opened under the Trustmart banner last month.

McMillon said the return on investment in the compact format was equal to supermarkets that are more than twice the size.

"But the cost of operating it is less, so the (prices) are less," he said.

Wal-Mart currently has 189 outlets in China, according to its website.

The retailer's third-quarter sales in China soared 15.2 percent from a year earlier, the report said. Global sales in 14 countries outside the United States rose 9.3 percent in the same period, while US sales rose 1.4 percent.

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