Gang kingpin put back behind bars

A Spanish court ordered the return to prison on Tuesday of a Chinese art dealer suspected of leading a massive money-laundering gang in Spain pending his possible trial, judging him a flight risk.

Gang kingpin put back behind bars
Madrid-based Chinese businessman Gao Ping is accused of lanudering up to €300,000 a year. Photo: Dominique Faget/AFP

Gao Ping was arrested in October 2012 along with dozens of mostly Chinese suspects as part of a police investigation dubbed 'Operation Emperor' but a court ordered him bailed the following month due to procedural irregularities relating to his detention.

Spain's High Court, the country's top criminal court, ordered his return to jail on Tuesday because of the "sufficiently intense temptation" to flee the country and because of the serious nature of the crimes he is alleged to have committed.

Spanish prosecutors suspect Gao of leading a gang that allegedly laundered up to €300,000 ($392,000) a year, dodged taxes, bribed officials and forged documents.

Gao, reportedly from Zhejiang in northeastern China, owns art galleries in Madrid and Beijing plus businesses in Cobo Calleja, a huge Chinese trading estate in southern Madrid.

Judges are due to decide at an unspecified date whether he will go on trial.

Police seized €10 million euros in cash as part of their operation as well as 200 cars, several guns, jewels and art works.

In the wake of Ping's arrest in October, there were reports of Spanish shoppers deserting so-called 'chinos' — or shops run by Chinese people — in droves.

Traders at the huge Cobo Calleja Industrial Estate in Madrid told Spanish national broadcaster RTVE in early November that 70 percent of their business has evaporated.

Spain’s Chinese community then came out in a spirited bout of self-defence.

Representatives from 25 Chinese associations based in Spain sat down with journalists from the country's EFE news agency and condemned all criminal actions.

They went on to say that not one member of Spain’s Chinese community should be afraid to report illegal activity.

In that same meeting, Julia Zhang, president of the Chinese group Asociación Nihao España, told EFE that Chinese children in Spain were currently afraid to go to school or catch the metro because they were being taunted with the words "mafia kids".

Zhang also said that some customers in Chinese-run grocery stores were refusing to cough up for the tax component of product prices because “the Chinese don’t pay taxes anyway”.

Then, in early November, Chinese shop owners at Madrid’s Cobo Calleja Industrial Estate – which is the largest conglomeration of Chinese businesses in Europe – took the unheard of step of closing up shop for a day as part of a bid to reclaim their image.

Speaking about the protest, Law student Yinong Chen, one of the spokespersons for the local traders group, said it was time to challenge the misconception in Spanish society at large that the country’s Chinese population represented a closed and secretive society.

Chen said the Chinese in Spain were just like the Spaniards of earlier generations: they had come to this country as immigrants and were now working hard and making sacrifices to earn an honest living.

Some 165,000 people of Chinese descent currently live in Spain according to the national statistics office, the NIE.

The community has grown six times in the last decade.

Thirteen percent of Spain’s Chinese community were actually born in Spain and 70 percent come from the Chinese region around Qingtian and Wenzhou.

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How to celebrate Chinese New Year in Madrid

With a Chinese population estimated at 62,000, Madrid is full of celebrations for the Year of The Rat.

How to celebrate Chinese New Year in Madrid
Photo: Ayuntamiento de Madrid

The barrio of Usera is the hub of celebrations this weekend as it is home to a large Chinese community in Madrid.

Centred around Plaza Junta Distrito Usera where a huge stage had been set up there will be performances, workshops, food trucks starting from Friday at 5pm as well as sculptures including a giant panda.

Workshops include face painting for children, chinese chess (xiangqi) and storytelling as well as theatre shows, a market and musical concerts.

On Friday night the Chinese-born influencer Yon Li will kick off the party on a stage set up in Plaza Junta Distrito Usera where there will be diverse rap and pop artists playing until 10pm.

On the same stage on Saturday there are concerts for kids during the day followed by music in the evening.

At 6pm on Saturday head to Parque Pradolongo for a Light show and on Sunday in Parque Olof Palme there is a display of acrobatics by the Chinese circus.

But the celebrations aren’t confined to the Usera district.

Madrid’s Puerta de Alcala will be lit up especially for the Chinese New Year on Friday and Saturday and Chinese restaurants across the city are offering special New Year tasting menus. Check out the list here:

For a full list of events and activities take a look at the official programme.

Happy New Year!