A Chinese man has been sentenced to death for conning people out of 3 billion yuan ($387 million) in a giant scam to breed ants.
Wang Zhendong, from the northeastern province of Liaoning, fabricated a business purported to be making wine, tea and medical elixirs using mature ants, the Beijing News said.
In parts of China, black ants are sold by the bagful to be steeped in tea or soaked in liquor as a natural remedy for ailments such as arthritis.
Wang sold packages of ants to the investors for up to as much as 10,000 yuan ($1,290) when they were only worth 200 yuan, China Central Television reported.
More than 10,000 people, lured by the promise of returns of up to 60 percent, signed 100,000 contracts with Wang’s bogus company before the case came under investigation in June 2005.
Investigators could only recover 10 million yuan of the money raised by Wang, the Beijing News said. One investor was so distraught at losing his money he killed himself, the newspaper said.
Fifteen managers of the company were jailed for between five and 10 years and fined between 100,000 and 500,000 yuan, Xinhua news agency said.
In his defense, Wang said he did not know the first thing about raising ants and was “quite unclear” about the costs, the Beijing News said.
Wang spent 798 million yuan on himself, paying off personal debts and lending money to other people, it added.