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    Xi’an SOE Suspends 3 Female Executives Amid Online Backlash

    Local finance bureau says no foul play in three young accountants being appointed to top posts at a large company, but some netizens aren’t buying it.

    Three high-level executives at a state-owned enterprise in Xi’an, the capital of northwestern Shaanxi province, were suspended on Sunday less than a month after their appointments. Over the weekend, Chinese netizens had questioned how the executives — all young women — could be experienced enough to manage Xi’an Hi-Tech Holdings Co. Ltd., which claims to have a net worth of over 40 billion yuan ($5.8 billion).

    The head of a district finance bureau was removed from his post on Monday for his role in the case — which was not specified — even though an investigation had determined that the women had “no special family background” that could have led to nepotistic behavior. Netizens had voiced concerns that civil servants, who are barred from working in private companies while holding government posts, had appointed the three women as stooges to be manipulated behind the scenes.

    Xi’an Hi-Tech Holdings announced the personnel moves in September: 34-year-old Li Tian became the company’s legal representative, chairwoman, and chief executive officer, and 25-year-old Zhao Xueying and 23-year-old Zhu Yue were named directors. The youngest, Zhu, graduated just last year, and all three worked at the same accounting firm before their appointments at the SOE. None attended top-tier universities.

    Speculation that family connections could have won the women their posts has been circulating on Chinese social media since last week. “Are they geniuses if they can be directors right after graduating from university?” read one upvoted comment on microblogging platform Weibo. On Nov. 3, the finance bureau of Xi’an’s high-technology district — the office tasked with managing the company — released a statement saying it had found no evidence of social connections that would affect the company’s normal operations.

    On the following day, however, the case took a sharp turn: According to a statement from the district finance bureau, all three women have been suspended.

    Then on Monday, the finance bureau’s director was removed from his position after the bureau was found to have “changed the company’s legal representative and directors without authorization,” according to a notice from the district management council. The notice reiterated that nepotism had not played a part in the women’s appointments, and even disclosed their salaries to eliminate doubts: The three executives were being paid just 3,600 to 4,351 yuan per month.

    But rather than allay suspicions of foul play, the salary disclosure prompted some to wonder whether the women were merely puppets intended to be surreptitiously manipulated by others. Some netizens, including the Beijing bureau chief of a Hong Kong newspaper in a now-deleted post, asked whether Xi’an Hi-Tech Holdings’ wave of 10 recent appointments, including the three young executives, had been an effort to fall in line with the no-overlap policy.

    Founded in 2003 with 1.13 billion yuan in registered capital, Xi’an Hi-Tech Holdings is responsible for a wide range of services including urban infrastructure, greenery projects, and real estate management. The management council of Xi’an’s high-technology development zone — the body that removed the district finance director — owns a 70-percent stake in the company.

    Editor: David Paulk.

    (Header image: The entrance of the high-technology zone in Xi’an, Shaanxi province, Oct. 25, 2014. Ping Zi/VCG)