Twenty year jail sentence for Chongqing crime boss accused of instigating strike in his own taxi company

Have Chongqing’s prosecutors been watching too many episodes of The Sopranos? I ask merely because the latest installment in the Chongqing crime boss trials that have gripped the nation over the last few weeks has all the hallmarks of HBO’s award-winning drama series - corrupt politicians, crooked businessmen and vicious gangsters conspiring to organize strikes and monopolize the market.

Specifically, Li Qiang, the former chair of the Chongqing Business Administration and a deputy to the municipal legislature, stands accused of organizing the massive taxi strike that brought the city to a standstill last November as a means of bolstering the interests of his Yuqiang transport group, which controls several taxi companies and bus routes in Chongqing.

Li, who on 29 December was sentenced to 20 years in prison, is alleged to have told his brother-in-law, He Yonghong, to tell taxi company managers to instruct their drivers not to go to work on the morning of 3 November 2008, or face the consequences. As was well-documented at the time, several cab drivers who ignored the strike were attacked and their cabs damaged by thugs who have now been linked by prosecutors to Li’s alleged criminal enterprise.

Li is supposed to have used the fallout from the strike, and subsequent government intervention, to expand and consolidate his transport business empire. But even if this conspiratorial storyline does turn out to be true, it cannot disguise the fact that Chongqing’s striking taxi drivers had a long list of legitimate grievances and demands centered on the excessive vehicle rental charges they had to pay to companies like Li’s.

Indeed, as we have pointed out in previous reports, the drivers’ complaints about vehicle rental charges dated back several years and were shared by drivers in cities across the entire country.

By claiming the strike was organized and manipulated by gangsters, Chongqing’s prosecutors risk under-cutting the legitimacy of the workers’ action and, by implication, questioning the political judgment of Chongqing’s Party boss, Bo Xilai, who on 6 November met with strikers’ representatives and promised that the government would find a long-lasting solution to their problems. It is Bo Xilai himself who has been spearheading the crackdown on the city’s crime bosses.

Meanwhile, hundreds of bus and cab drivers and their families risk being left out in the cold if Li is found guilty and the cab licenses and bus routes he controlled are cancelled or transferred to rival companies.
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