BEIJING – The Chinese bureaucrats who spent taxpayers' money on a $700-a-night Las Vegas hotel and visits to Hawaiian beaches and a San Francisco sex show might have gotten away with it if someone hadn't lost a bag on the Shanghai subway.
The dozens of documents and receipts in the bag, with officials' names and enthusiastic comments attached, were swiftly posted on the Internet, spreading like wildfire across Chinese cyberspace over the past week. That brought swift punishment for some officials involved — and another disgusted shrug from Chinese citizens all-too-familiar with corruption.
Officials gambling and spending government money on shopping sprees and sightseeing during overseas trips is hardly new. But making the lurid details public certainly is, illustrating the growing power of the Chinese public to use the Internet to expose wrongdoing.
"These are public resources, and people have the right to know how they were used," Wang Xixin, a law professor at Peking University, told The Associated Press Friday.
The bag was thought to have been left on the subway by a travel agent, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported. The man who posted them online described himself as an IT engineer — and an angry one.
The documents chronicle the adventures of 23 officials from the eastern city of Wenzhou during five days of a three-week trip that cost taxpayers $94,000, Xinhua reported. Their Communist Party committee has demanded repayment of all unapproved expenses.
Xinhua said the group visited nearly a dozen cities, many more than authorized, and spent just five days on official business — far fewer than ordered.
The reasons for the trip? Everything from "An Overview of American History" to "Honest and Clean Government Management."
The documents portray the officials as gushing with satisfaction over their travels. "The guide did a great job ... including the homosexual show," wrote one of a stop in San Francisco.
The authenticity of the documents could not be independently verified and telephones at the Wenzhou Communist Party committee's office rang unanswered Friday.
State media reported that four Wenzhou officials had been given warnings over the trip, a light punishment that appeared to reflect lax attitudes toward such abuses despite repeated demands by communist leaders to crack down on corruption.
The party's top official for discipline, He Guoqiang, was quoted Friday as calling for intensified efforts to combat corruption among party members.
"We must have a clear vision on this," He told officials at a seminar in Beijing, according to Xinhua. "The anti-corruption situation will remain grave and complicated."
Government junkets arranged around loosely defined training goals are a favorite perk for Chinese bureaucrats, who until recently had little chance to travel abroad.
The Los Angeles-based company that arranged the trip, All Americas Inc., says on its Web site that it arranges trips for more than 400 Chinese government delegations a year to the United States and Europe for "touring, trade shows, seminars etc."
The Wenzhou officials might have gotten off lightly because they denied gambling — an illegal act in China — during a two-night stay at the Sahara Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.
"It was a first overseas trip for most of them and they were very discreet," Tao Shimei, the director of the disciplinary department for Wenzhou's Communist Party committee was quoted as saying in the China Daily newspaper Friday.
While not all visits involve gambling, Sin City remains a favorite of Chinese visitors, with 105,000 traveling there last year, according to Peter Phang, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority's chief China representative.
"A lot of Chinese itineraries definitely include Las Vegas," Phang said.