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Brick factory fined for profiteering in China quake zone
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A factory in Sichuan Province was fined for selling bricks at inflated prices to people trying to rebuild their homes after the May 12 earthquake.

Five local officials were also punished for failing to stop the scam, said the publicity department of the Anxian county government on Thursday.

The brick factory, named Liyuan, made an illegal profit of 48,000 yuan (7,022 U.S. dollars) by selling 1.2 million shale bricks at a price of 0.35 yuan each. It sold another 450,000 bricks for 0.42 yuan each. These prices were above the maximum price of 0.34 yuan set by the government after the earthquake.

The local price bureau confiscated the 48,000 yuan and fined Liyuan 240,000 yuan.

At least 110,000 families in Anxian are trying to rebuild their homes after the earthquake. There's no word on how many of them were scammed.

Meanwhile, three officials in the price bureau, including the director, were removed from their posts for not implementing the price fixing measure effectively. Two other officials were reprimanded.

Mounting demand for post-disaster reconstruction materials resulted in price hikes in Sichuan. A red brick sells for 0.5 yuan there, compared with 0.2-0.3 yuan in the rest of the country. The price of cement is 60 percent higher and the price of steel about 10 percent higher.

Local construction companies estimated that residents would have to pay 30 percent more for reconstructing their homes due simply because of inflated building material costs.

Mianyang City, which administers Anxian County, stipulated to businesses a maximum 7 percent profit on building materials to curb extreme price hikes.

The 8-magnitude quake on May 12, killed nearly 70,000 people. Some 18,000 are still missing. More than 5 million were left homeless and China suffered an estimated123 billion U.S. dollars in direct economic losses.

(Xinhua News Agency December 18, 2008)

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