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China to prosecute 26 over US$7.6b 'Ponzi scheme'

[SHANGHAI] China will prosecute 26 people linked to a peer-to-peer lender for fraud and illegal fundraising, state media said late Tuesday, in a case labelled a Ponzi scheme for allegedly bilking investors of US$7.6 billion.

Police have handed over the case involving P2P lender Ezubao to prosecutors, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Authorities charged 11 people - including top executives of Ezubao's parent company Yucheng, chairman Ding Ning and president Zhang Min - of fraud while another 15 are accused of illegally obtaining investors' savings, the Beijing People's Procuratorate said in statement on its website.

In a televised confession shown in February after suspects were arrested, Mr Zhang said Ezubao was "a typical Ponzi scheme". Rights groups condemn such practices as prejudicing the right to a fair trial.

Police previously told state media that Ezubao concocted fake projects to attract investment and pocketed funds instead of passing them to borrowers to generate returns.

The case, said to be China's biggest-ever Ponzi scheme, has sparked protests from investors and is one among several dubious investment projects which have come to light this year.

In May, police arrested 35 executives and employees of Shanghai-based Zhongjin Asset Management after it failed to make payments of 5.2 billion yuan (S$1.05 billion) to its 25,000 investors.

Police arrested 19 people connected to a troubled metal exchange Fanya, which managed around 40 billion yuan in assets, in June amid suspicion of fraud.