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A deal or a steal?
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Zhao Zibo, Cheng's secretary when he was the general manager of Hefei-Chaohu-Wuhu Expressway Company, said that Cheng seldom mentioned his past. "Whenever Jiang Xueming came to Anhui, Cheng would personally receive him. We were not allowed to accompany the men."

Currently no one in the Anhui expressway system has any idea about Cheng's whereabouts.

On June 13 of last year, Cheng's apartment was located in a topnotch residential community in Hefei. But he hasn't been seen for over a year, according to his neighbors.

Cheng's apartment covers 198 square meters and a young woman once tried to sell it for about 850,000 yuan, Cheng's neighbors said.

The Hefei-Chaohu-Wuhu Expressway Company purchased the apartment for Cheng, the finance department of Anhui Expressway Company confirmed.

In 2005, the Hefei-Chaohu-Wuhu Expressway Company was trapped in financial crisis and was unable to pay Cheng's salary, so they gave Cheng the apartment and an Audi sedan instead.

Also inside a resolution of the directorate of Hefei-Chaohu-Wuhu Expressway Company, the Hong Kong Oriental Expressway Company agreed to transfer 3 percent of its stake in the Hefei-Chaohu-Wuhu Expressway Company to Cheng for US$100. And Cheng became a company shareholder on September 4, 2003.

When the Anhui provincial government bought back the freeway at a much higher price in 2005, Cheng received 40 million yuan for his 3 percent stake.

Fractured capital chain

Jiang had already had a big capital empire under his control before his takeover of the Hefei-Chaohu-Wuhu Expressway. His enterprise was once labeled as Jiangsu's largest private business by the media.

With Jiang's capital, the expressway underwent a facelift, changing from a cement road into asphalt. Under repeated requests from the Anhui provincial government, Jiang allocated another 600 million yuan for the maintenance of the road on December 28, 2004.

"This is all recorded in auditor reports," Liu of Anhui Expressway Company said.

However, in 2005, Jiang's financial empire was beset by a capital crisis. On January 14 of that year, shares of Taishan Oil controlled by Jiang slumped to its daily allowable limits for 9 consecutive trading days, shrinking their market value by 1.78 billion yuan.

Creditors thronged in for debt collections. The court also sealed Jiang's stake in the Hefei-Chaohu-Wuhu Expressway.

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