China downplays reports $20b missing in lottery

Chinese authorities are downplaying reports circulating on social media that RMB136 billion ($19.5 billion) has been embezzled from the state lotteries by corrupt officials.

According to a report in the South China Morning Post, authorities said the reports circulating on social media were incorrect, but declined to specify the amount of money involved, saying it would be “inconvenient.” The statement lead to a further round of social media speculation that the figure may be even higher.

The scandal has been rumbling on for some time, though hit the headlines again last week after the country’s top anti-corruption watchdog, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), released a video of four lottery officials “confessing” their wrongdoings after being arrested for corruption last year.

“Corruption in the lottery system has had a huge, irreparable impact … It is a sheer disaster,” the SCMP cited Feng Lizhi, a former deputy head of the lottery centre, as saying in the video.

The video was played at a meeting of the Ministry of Civil Affairs last week as a warning and a lesson for cadres, according to the CCDI.

China’s two state lotteries, the Sports Lottery and the Welfare Lottery, generate about RMB400 billion a year in annual sales, which are supposed to go towards financing social programs. Beijing imposed a ban on online lottery ticket sales in March 2015 due to allegations of widespread corruption. That ban is still in effect.