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Wild animal eaters might face jail time

BEIJING, April 21 (Xinhua) -- A draft interpretation of China's Criminal Law, tabled for reading on Monday, aims to clear up ambiguities by clearly defining eating endangered wild animals, or buying them for this or other purposes, as illegal.

The bill was submitted for first reading by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislature, at its bimonthly session from Monday to Thursday.

Eating rare wild animals is not only bad social conduct but also a main reason why illegal hunting has not been stopped despite repeated crackdowns, said Lang Sheng, deputy head of the Legislative Affairs Commission of the NPC Standing Committee, when elaborating on the bill to lawmakers.

Currently, 420 species of wild animals are considered rare or endangered by the Chinese government. They include giant pandas, golden monkeys, Asian black bears and pangolins.

According to the bill, anyone who eats the animals in this list or buys them for other purposes, will be considered to be breaking the Criminal Law and will face a jail term from below five years to more than 10 years, depending on the degree of offending.

While the current Criminal Law bans illegal hunting of any wild animals, it fails to clarify whether buying prey of illegal hunting breaks the law. And many buyers walk away unpunished.

"In fact, buyers are a major motivator of large-scale illegal hunting," Lang said.

To close the loophole, the bill regulates that knowingly buying any wild animals that are prey of illegal hunting is considered a form of fencing and will face a maximum three-year imprisonment.

Having one of the world's richest wildlife resources, China is home to around 6,500 vertebrate species, about 10 percent of the world's total. More than 470 terrestrial vertebrates are indigenous to China, including giant pandas, golden monkeys, South China tigers and Chinese alligators.

However, the survival of wildlife in the country faces serious challenges from illegal hunting, consumption of wild animal products and a worsening environment.

The bill is the tenth interpretative move to the Criminal Law by the top legislature since it took effect in 1997. The law has also been through nine amendments.

Three other issues were explained in the bill, concerning social insurance fraud, company registration fraud and organizations involved in violating personal rights.

Since the current law does not regulate social insurance fraud, offenders have faced different penalties. Some have been prosecuted and jailed and some have received administrative punishment, while the rest have walked free after returning what they gained illegally, according to Lang.

It will need the top legislature's clarification to better fight the crimes, he said.

The bill puts defrauding social insurance through cheating, faked documents and other means in the offences of swindling public and private money or property. This means the offender will face a jail time from below three years to more than ten years.

The third entry in the bill is to update the Criminal Law in line with the latest amendment to the company law which was made last December.

The revised law removes the requirement on an ordinary company to actually deposit a set amount of money, out of its registered capital, to obtain a business license. Instead, shareholders of the company take responsibility of confirming the contributions.

The bill lifts criminal penalties on shareholders of these companies if they make a false capital contribution.

The current two provisions about capital contribution fraud will only be applied to a few sorts of companies like banks that are still required to deposit registered capital.

The bill also clarifies that if an organization is involved in violating personal and property rights of a citizen, the individuals in the organization, who mastermind and commit such crimes, should be held responsible.

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