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Customers of China’s Henan Bank are harassed and lose their jobs due to protests

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SHANGHAI — A woman who was injured on Sunday when a protest of around 1,000 bank customers in central China was violently dispersed by security personnel said she continued to be harassed.

Still bearing bruises from kicking on her front and back, the 32-year-old surnamed Geng said she was woken on Tuesday morning by violent knocking on her door from men claiming there had a water leak in his apartment.

“I don’t know how they found me, they came to my house, but it’s under my mother’s name,” said Geng, who only asked for her last name to be used given the sensitivity of the case.

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She said she threatened to jump out of the window if they tried to get in, then hid in her bedroom for three hours as the two men in black, whom she could not identify, stood guard outside the apartment complex before departing another stairwell. .

Other customers of the four smaller banks in Henan province, where at least $1.5 billion in deposits have been frozen since April, have also reported being harassed in a case that has dramatically exposed tensions in one corner of the Chinese financial sector.

“It’s happened to a lot of investors – they want to erase our phones, they want to take the videos and the evidence,” said Geng, who together with his mother had deposited 110,000 yuan ($16,354) in the one of the banks.

The clients, who have become increasingly assertive as they draw attention to their grievances, told Reuters that police, village Communist Party officials and employers visited them and their families, in recent weeks to urge them not to demonstrate, including the threat of job loss.

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“The village party secretary will come to your house, talk to your family and say that you are causing trouble,” said one, surnamed Chen, who said he was accused of being a spy at the foreigner for speaking with foreign media.

After Sunday’s protest in the provincial capital of Zhengzhou turned violent, police announced they had arrested a number of accomplices in a scheme orchestrated by Lu Yi, who they believe used the banks to illegally hijack money through a company he controls called Henan Xincaifu Group.

The statement did not say whether Lu was among those arrested. No one could immediately be reached at the band’s official email address for comment.

Police in Henan Province and China’s Ministry of Public Security did not respond to requests for further comment.

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While it’s unclear whether Henan’s banking problems have wider ramifications, China’s thousands of small and medium-sized lenders are crucial to the domestic financial sector and maintain close ties through interbank borrowing channels.

‘HUGE DISTRESS’

One filer, who set up a WeChat group to coordinate efforts to recover their savings, said authorities had charged him with unlawful assembly, causing what he called “huge distress – listen to my sick mother, my wife, they even went to school to find my child, asking me to close the chat.

Another, who works in a government finance department, was forced to resign after his attempts to join a protest came to light, according to screenshots of his resignation seen by Reuters.

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Others said that when traveling to protest destinations, police, COVID-19 prevention officers and others called them repeatedly asking where they would be staying and asking to meet. . If they decline, calls can continue 24 hours a day.

After being arrested by police, customers were asked to sign guarantees pledging not to demonstrate, two of them said.

Last month, local authorities in Henan punished five officials for deliberately turning thousands of citizens’ health codes red, after bank depositors publicly alleged that their health codes had suddenly changed from green to red when they began to travel to Henan to protest blocked withdrawals.

ANZ Research said that because high-risk institutions make up just 1% of Chinese banking assets, problems at Henan’s village banks were unlikely to spill over to the wider banking sector.

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Still, ANZ said, “despite the small size of the assets involved, the social impact of the incident could be significant if not handled appropriately. It could also trigger a new round of regulatory tightening.” . »

China is moving quickly to quell protests that could cause unrest or challenge the legitimacy of the ruling Communist Party, and the space for dissent has shrunk under President Xi Jinping.

This week, China’s banking regulator said Henan and Anhui provinces will start refunding part of the funds to customers with savings of less than 50,000 yuan from rural lenders, including Xinminsheng Rural Bank and Shangcai. Huimin County Bank.

But many customers have frozen much larger sums, and the banking regulator’s advice does not qualify the funds as deposits, which customers say could limit their ability to be repaid.

China’s banking regulator, central bank and lenders in Henan did not respond to requests for comment.

Many filers say they plan to continue their protests. ($1 = 6.7261 Chinese yuan) (Reporting by Engen Tham in Shanghai and Martin Quin Pollard in Beijing; Editing by Tony Munroe and Jacqueline Wong)

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