On March 17, the Chenzhou Public Security Bureau announced Huang Bailian had been removed as head of the police department’s drug squad.
Huang offered a simple explanation for his sacking: “This is retaliation.”
Three years earlier Huang, who is forty-eight years old and a twenty-five-year police force veteran, cracked what he thought was a major drug trafficking case.
However, before the case reached prosecutors, drugs seized during his arrests went missing and a suspect was set free.
Evidence of the theft pointed to a Huang subordinate, Wang Bin. Furthermore, there were suspicions that Wang and Huang’s boss, vice-captain of the drug squad Huang Zhongxiang, were protecting traffickers.
It all started on the evening of July 18, 2009, when a tip prompted the arrest of Cao Zhilei and the discovery of a bag of magu—a methamphetamine-caffeine combination drug. Huang also caught Cao with two bags of meth. At Cao’s home were 2,380 magu pills and six bags of meth, ketamine and marijuana.
Huang took Cao and his roommate, Deng Bo, back to the police station. On the way, he reported the arrests to Huang Zhongxiang.
At the station, Huang Zhongxiang examined the seized drugs and left. Huang Bailian inventoried the drugs and put them in an evidence cabinet, he said, strictly according to police rules.
He then questioned Cao. Transcripts of the interrogation show Cao confessed he’d sold drugs that evening, but that the drugs at his home were Deng’s. Cao said Deng was his boss, and he only helped Deng sell drugs. Based on this information, Huang determined the case involved drug trafficking.
Later, Wang questioned Cao again, following Huang Zhongxiang’s orders, and downgraded the crime from trafficking to possession of drugs. Wang also determined that Cao was the only suspect, and listed Deng as simply Cao’s roommate.
Wang’s list of seized drugs and other items cited Cao as the owner and Deng a witness. Wang interrogated Cao twice. Both transcripts indicate Cao said the drugs were his alone, and that he was not a trafficker.
“I didn’t understand at the time,” Huang said. “Then finally I got it. This was exonerating Deng for the crime.”
The distinction between drug trafficking and possession is important: Illegal possession carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, while the maximum for drug trafficking is death.
On July 21, 2009, a packet of seized marijuana and a 500-gram packet of magu powder disappeared. Huang said on the afternoon of July 19 he saw Wang photographing the drugs and saw him place a large bag of magu at the edge of a table. Huang reminded Wang he needed to photograph the drugs together but, according to Huang, Wang said: “I’ll shoot it later.”
Huang said that later, when he asked why the two packets of drugs disappeared, Wang simply said: “They were lost.” Wang also said that, regardless, a small amount of drugs would not affect the case. “Anyway, they weren’t recorded on the seizure list,” Wang said.
That afternoon, Wang wrote a note denying he had seen the two packets of drugs Huang said were missing.
According to Cao’s later confession, on his third day in the detention center a man in a police uniform came to see him. Cao said the man was Tang Kai, a traffic policeman. According to Cao, Tang said: “My friend in the Public Security Bureau working on the case is helping out. As long as the case is filed as ‘illegal possession,’ Deng will be fine. When Deng is all right, we’ll help you right away. Don’t speak rashly. You have to undergo interrogation.”
A number of witnesses confirmed that the “friend in the Public Security Bureau” was Wang Bin. Later, it was determined Tang had a two-year history of drug abuse and had bought drugs from Deng.
Tang later testified that, after Deng and Cao were arrested, he acted to protect Deng. Tang asked another policeman, Wang Xi, for help getting the case reclassified as illegal possession of drugs. For this, Wang Xi said Deng’s family should prepare 180,000 yuan in compensation. Officials later learned that Wang Xi was a drug addict.
In July 2009, because of Huang’s insistence, PSB officials ordered him to re-investigate the case. Two months later, Deng was arrested and a prosecution case prepared. In late 2010, the Chenzhou Intermediate People’s Court found Deng guilty and sentenced him to life in prison. Cao was sentenced to nine years.
Wang Xi was removed from his post and kicked out of the Communist Party. Tang was sentenced to one year in prison.
However, Huang continued to file reports about the missing drugs. When nothing happened, he submitted materials to Chenzhou prosecutors, who decided Huang Zhongxiang and Wang Bin had protected the drug traffickers. Furthermore, prosecutors strongly suspected Wang Bin took the seized drugs.
However, the Chenzhou PSB said that the case, based on the confessions of Deng and Cao, could not be considered drug trafficking. It upheld the decision by Huang Zhongxiang and Wang Bin to charge the suspects with drug possession.
Numerous sources told Caixin the local party’s Commission for Discipline Inspection placed Huang Zhongxiang under a form of administrative detention in 2002 and 2005 over suspected drug-related cases, but he was later released and kept his job.
Chenzhou got a new deputy mayor last December 30—Tang, the PSB chief. Huang Zhongxiang and Wang Bin are still on the police force. And Huang Bailian is jobless.
Zheng Dao is a Caixin staff reporter.