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Fake tiger photographer stands second trial
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The farmer who was accused and found guilty of faking photographs of a critically-endangered tiger species in the wild is standing second trial Monday in northwest China's Shaanxi Province after his appeal against conviction.

The court hearing began at 8:30 a.m. at the People's Court in Xunyang County, in response to Zhou Zhenglong's appeal against the first ruling handed down in September.

The same court sentenced Zhou, aged 54, to two and a half years in prison and fined him 2,000 yuan (about 292 U.S. dollars) on Sept. 27, on charges of fraud and illegally owning a gun.

Zhou appealed against the ruling on Oct. 8.

Zhou, a native of Zhenping County in Shaanxi, faked pictures last year of a South China tiger, a subspecies that is believed to have been extinct in the wild in China for years.

The provincial forestry department announced Zhou's "discovery" to the public in October 2007, and gave him a 20,000-yuan reward.

Doubts mounted on the Internet after netizens found an old Lunar New Year poster showing a tiger that looked exactly the same as Zhou's photo.

Police arrested Zhou in June after seizing an old tiger poster, which Zhou allegedly used to produce his photos. They also found a wooden model of a tiger paw and 93 bullets in his home.

A spokesman with the Shaanxi provincial government said in June that Zhou had used the wooden cat's paw to fabricate tiger's footprints in the snow.

The Shaanxi provincial government announced in late June that Zhou's tiger photos were fabricated.

Zhou's defense lawyers claimed outside the court after the first case that Zhou was not solely responsible for the bad publicity generated by the case, saying the "cursory release of the news by relevant departments" helped promote the fraud.

A total of 13 government staff in Shaanxi were sacked or reprimanded as a result of the case.

Li Qian, a junior wildlife preservation official in Zhou's home county of Zhenping was sacked for failing to conduct a site survey to prove the tiger photos genuine, said a spokesman with Shaanxi provincial department of supervision.

The spokesman said Li also fabricated a survey report and was therefore directly responsible for the government's cursory release of Zhou's "discovery".

The case also led to the sackings of Zhenping County's forestry chief Qin Dapeng, who failed to find holes in Li's report and trade chief Xie Kunyuan, who provided cameras and films to Zhou and helped Zhou develop the fake tiger photos.

Four officials from the provincial forestry department were also removed, including two deputy chiefs.

(Xinhua News Agency November 17, 2008)

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