Missing documents pose legal conundrum

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The ruling in a high-profile civil dispute over the ownership of a valuable coal mine has been put into question when it unexpectedly emerged that crucial documents in the case have gone missing from an office in the nation's top court.

Anti-corruption and legal enforcement watchdogs have jointly launched an investigation.

The Commission for Political and Legal Affairs of the Communist Party of China Central Committee announced on Tuesday night that it would lead the probe and that the facts would be made public. The investigation team's telephone number was published so the public could provide information.

The Supreme People's Court said late Tuesday that it would cooperate with the probe, being jointly conducted by the CPC Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the National Supervisory Commission, the Supreme People's Procuratorate and the Ministry of Public Security.

The case, which had gone to the top court for an appeal, involves disputes between two mining organizations in Shaanxi province over the ownership of a coal mine said to have coal reserves worth 380 billion yuan ($55.6 billion).

In December 2017, the top court had delivered the final verdict in the case, overturning a previous ruling of the Shaanxi High People's Court, 14 years after the dispute was first brought to the local court.

The case recently came under the spotlight when well-known former news anchor Cui Yongyuan said on social networking platform Sina Weibo that some of the key court documents in the case were lost in the office building of the top court. Cui attached photos of a court document that said a hearing in the case scheduled for Dec 12, 2016, had to be postponed because the court couldn't provide trial documents. It also said the court was trying to recover the documents.

The top court later confirmed the authenticity of the document Cui posted.

Cui also posted a video clip believed to be made by a court officer related to the case. The officer, Wang Linqing, said in the video he was "astonished" that key documents related to the case's appeal went missing from his office in the top court's headquarters.

"I looked for them everywhere and checked security footage. The footage only showed me taking the documents back to the office. Afterward, when trying to find out what happened, we noticed the two security cameras near the entrance of my office had stopped working. I found it extremely odd," Wang said, adding that he made the video as evidence to protect himself.

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