A dozen female officials have been nabbed for writing off beauty parlor gift cards as expenses, or accepting the cards as bribes, lured by vanity and a wish for everlasting youth, a prosecutor said Wednesday.
"When those female officials were caught, they looked gorgeous and young. However, when the prosecutors office staff visited them later in jail, they looked old and gray," said Wu Min, a media officer of The First Branch of Beijing Municipal People's Procuratorate.
"Most of the female officials were in their late 40s or 50s - they wanted to grasp the tail end of their youth," she said.
Over the last year, the prosecutors arrested 12 female officials and one male official during an investigation into the gift cards triggered in March 2011 by an anonymous letter accusing Bai Hong, an official of the Beijing Municipal Health Bureau, of luxury consumption in a beauty parlor over a period of time.
"More than one year ago, our prosecutors found criminal proof against Bai. From there, they were so perceptive that they found clues from places you would have never thought possible, leading to the arrest of these officials," said the spokeswoman.
Wu said that corruption cases previously centered on money, but now the focus has been expanded, with beauty parlors just being one area. All corrupt officials like money, she said, but beyond that personal desire determines what gifts they receive.
"For instance, if some officials like houses, they will have several villas. If they like mistress, they can support several. The same goes for luxury cars, watches and so on," Wu said.
Lin Zhe, a professor specializing in anti-corruption at the Party School of the CPC, said that beauty parlor gift cards often targeted female officials or male officials' wives or families. "It's like the bribery offered to male officials, like bowling or visiting prostitutes."
According to Lin, efforts in cracking down on corrupt officials became tough after 2008, with more officials losing their jobs.
Prior to that, beauty gift cards would have been treated as an ordinary gift, but now they can be considered as bribes, she said.
Wu said that the officials arrested either received cards from others, or purchased them using office funds, handing in fake receipts for meeting fees or office fees.
For example, Bai spent 3.99 million yuan ($640,000) over five years on beauty parlors by faking the receipts, and Yang Ping, an official from Municipal Finance Bureau, received gift cards worth 192,000 yuan, said prosecutors.
Gift cards are convenient, hard to trace, and less conspicuous than carrying large amounts of cash.
In addition, beauty cards can easily be written off as business expenses.
A staff surnamed Yu working in Xuedan Female Fitness Club said that they sell cards starting from 1,000 yuan. Their services include hairdressing and facials.
"Most of the cards we sell as gifts cost between 10,000 yuan and 38,000 yuan," said Yu, adding that it is not much trouble to write out a receipt for the cards under the name of meeting fees.
Wu noted that the root of the corruption is in the flaws in management and organizational systems. "The auditing and the accounting of the unit should check every receipt carefully and make people provide details of how the money is spent," she said.