Twenty-six executives of a Chinese online peer-to-peer (P2P) lender on Tuesday were handed jail terms ranging from three years to life imprisonment for cheating the public out of large amounts of money.
Anhui Yucheng and Yucheng Global, operators of online P2P lender Ezubao, and 10 company executives, including Yucheng chairman Ding Ning, were found guilty of fundraising fraud, said the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People's Court.
Another 16 were convicted of illegally absorbing public deposits.
Yucheng Global and Anhui Yucheng were ordered to pay fines of 1.8 billion yuan (278 million U.S. dollars) and 100 million yuan, respectively, the court said.
Chairman Ding Ning and his younger brother Ding Dian were both sentenced to life in prison and were fined 100 million yuan and 70 million yuan, respectively.
The remaining 24 received jail terms ranging from three to 15 years, the court said. They were also deprived of political rights and issued fines.
Some of the defendants were also convicted of other crimes, including smuggling precious metals, illegal possession of guns and border-crossing.
The court found that Anhui Yucheng and Yucheng Global had raised a huge amount of funds by faking high-yield investment products on two online P2P platforms, Ezubao and Sesame Financial, without a banking license between June 2014 and December 2015.
A majority of the money was spent lavishly on luxury gifts and salaries and used to purchase sales firms and return principal and high interests to some investors.
Police have seized cash and other assets from the P2P lender and are recovering more to retrieve losses for investors.
The court said the defendants have inflicted huge losses on investors in many parts of China and disrupted the national financial management system and thus should be given harsh penalties.
Earlier, police found that Ezubao cheated about 900,000 investors out of more than 50 billion yuan (7.7 billion U.S. dollars).
In early 2016, Zhang Min, president of Yucheng Global and one of the convicts, said that Ezubao was nothing but a Ponzi scheme. She claimed that senior executives were fully aware of the nature of the business.