Coin of Realm in China Graft: Phony Receipts
SHANGHAI — To begin to comprehend China’s vast underground economy, one need only visit this city’s major transportation depots and watch as peddlers openly hawk fake receipts.
“Receipts! Receipts!” calls out a woman in her 30s to passers-by as her two children play near the city’s south train station. “We sell all types of receipts.”
Buyers use them to evade taxes and defraud employers. And in a country rife with corruption, they are the grease for schemes to bribe officials and business partners. Making them and using them is illegal in China. Some people have been executed for the crime. But demand is so strong that a surprising amount of deal-making takes place out in public.
It is so pervasive that auditors at multinational corporations are also being duped. The British pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline is still trying to figure out how four senior executives at its China operation were able to submit fake receipts to embezzle millions of dollars over the last six years. Police officials say that some of the cash was used to create a slush fund to bribe doctors, hospitals and government officials.
Signs posted throughout this city advertise all kinds of fake receipts: travel receipts, lease receipts, waste material receipts and value-added tax receipts. Promotions for counterfeit “fapiao” (the Chinese word for an official invoice) are sent by fax and through mobile phone text messages. On China’s popular e-commerce Web site, Taobao.com, sellers even promise special discounts and same-day delivery of forged receipts.
“We charge by percentage if you are looking for invoices written for a large amount of money,” said one seller in an interview, quoting 2 percent of the face value of the receipt as his fee. Another seller boasted, “I once printed invoices totaling $16 million for a construction project!”
Detecting fake or doctored receipts is a challenge for tax collectors, small businesses and China’s state-run enterprises. While there are no reliable estimates of how much money is involved in the trade, as China’s economy has mushroomed and grown more sophisticated, so has the ability to falsify receipts.
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