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ATM thief facing life sentence appeals to higher court
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A man from the southern city of Guangzhou, who was sentenced to life imprisonment for taking large sums of cash from a malfunctioning ATM, has appealed to a higher court in Guangdong Province, a local newspaper reported on Wednesday.

Xu Ting, a 24-year-old migrant worker, has entered a plea of innocent with the Guangdong provincial higher people's court through his lawyers, Yang Zhenping and Wu Yichun, New Express Daily reported.

The lawyers said the case was not one of theft or embezzlement, because Xu should not be blamed for taking money from an ATM that had technical problems. "What Xu has done violates the civil law, not the criminal law," the lawyers' petition for appeal stated.

In April 2006, when Xu Ting was withdrawing cash from the ATM, he realized that the ATM deducted only 1 yuan from his account for every 1,000 yuan withdrawn. He told this to a friend surnamed Guo.

Xu subsequently withdrew 175,000 yuan (24,000 U.S. dollars) in 171 transactions while Guo withdrew 18,000 yuan.

Guo was jailed for a year after turning himself in but Xu remained on the run for a year before being apprehended and sentenced to life for theft.

Under the current criminal law, theft of more than 100,000 yuan from financial organizations carries a life sentence. If the theft involved people, the punishment would be relatively lighter -- only decades.

After Xu got his life sentence in late December, nationwide debate broke out.

"They just took advantage of the malfunctioning ATM, not to bilk or steal from it. It is too harsh to sentence a man to life imprisonment for unexpectedly discovering an ATM's malfunction and being enticed into committing a crime," the Beijing News said in an editorial.

"Undoubtedly, Xu violated the law, but the debate focused on how the local court arrived at its final judgment. One question was whether the ATM can be considered as a financial organization, and the other is the present criminal law has an obvious flaw regarding punishment," said He Weifang, professor with Peking University in Beijing.

According to the New Express Daily's report, eight lawyers across the country have proposed a revision of the law to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress and also the Supreme People's Court.

"The case deserves great attention, but if it calls for the revision of law, it has a long way to go," said Hu Fuchuan, a local lawyer.

(Xinhua News Agency January 10, 2008)

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