Chinese police detain aerospace investment chairman over alleged attack on academics

·3-min read

The chairman of a Chinese aerospace investment firm has been detained by Beijing police for allegedly attacking two academics, one of them in her 80s.

Police took Zhang Tao into custody a month after the alleged assault on June 6, with no charges brought so far.

A Chinese criminal defence lawyer said police needed to fully explain the reason for the delay in the arrest.

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Zhang Tao, the chairman of China Aerospace Investment Holdings, has been detained by police in Beijing amid allegations of assault. Photo: Handout
Zhang Tao, the chairman of China Aerospace Investment Holdings, has been detained by police in Beijing amid allegations of assault. Photo: Handout

In a notice about the detention issued on Monday evening, police alleged that China Aerospace Investment Holdings chairman Zhang, 57, assaulted Wang Jinnian, a 54-year-old scientist, during an argument outside Wang’s home.

The police also said 85-year-old scientist Wu Meirong was injured when she tried to intervene during an earlier argument between the two men.

Both Wang and Wu are members of the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA), an international non-governmental organisation based in Stockholm. Wu is also on the IAA’s board of trustees.

On Monday the police did not explain the reason for the alleged quarrel but Chinese state media have previously reported that it was related to IAA membership.

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According to a China News Weekly report on Saturday, Zhang had asked the two scientists for a recommendation required for his IAA membership application but his request was declined.

Monday’s police notice said Wang filed a complaint on June 12, six days after the alleged attack. Wang went to two Beijing hospitals, the notice said, and was diagnosed with broken ribs and multiple bruises. Doctors had different opinions about his alleged injuries which made it difficult for police to carry out a formal injury evaluation sooner. Wu is said to have been treated for a fractured spine, according to China News Weekly.

Wang had a follow-up consultation on Monday. Based on that, police then detained Zhang.

His employer, China Aerospace Investment Holdings, is an investment management organisation under the state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation.

The corporation said Zhang had been suspended from his job.

A criminal defence lawyer in northern China with four decades of experience said viral footage of the alleged incident posted online could have been a factor in the arrest.

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“The police have a forensic appraiser. They do not need to wait a month to evaluate injuries,” said Chi Susheng, who is based in Heilongjiang province.

“It is the power of the internet,” she added, saying a strong reaction online could mean the police felt compelled to take action.

She also said there had been many previous incidents where the police had delayed forensic assessments, sometimes only when “the bruises faded away”.

Chi said Zhang could face charges of picking a fight and provoking trouble and be sentenced for up to five years.

But she also said he could be cleared of any wrongdoing if the two scientists agreed not to hold him accountable. Before he was detained Zhang did not make any public comment.

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