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Phony bank purchase adds to China's fakery

Before his arrest for creating a fake U.S.

Before his arrest for creating a fake U.S. bank and claiming to have bought it, businessman Lin Chunping meets reporters in Wenzhou, in eastern China's Zhejiang province. (March 13, 2012) Credit: AP

BEIJING -- In a China awash with fake iPhones, pirated DVDs and knockoff Louis Vuitton bags, rice trader Lin Chunping took fakery to a whole new level: He invented a U.S. bank and claimed he bought it.

The little-known businessman shot to fame in January when Chinese state media reported that he had taken over Delaware-based Atlantic Bank. The unprecedented acquisition brought him praise: His hometown gave him a prestigious political appointment and state media called his business experience "legendary."

The only thing that may have been legendary is Lin's audacity. Not only did he not buy Atlantic Bank in Delaware for $60 million as he claimed, but there is no Atlantic Bank in that state.

Chinese reporters could not locate an Atlantic Bank or a bank registration by Lin in Delaware. Lin, under arrest for an unrelated fraud, could not be reached for comment. But the 41-year-old's short, spectacular rise and fall shows how fakery has evolved in China, morphing from the manufacture of copycat goods to entire institutions and careers.

Last year, officials found five fake Apple stores in the southwestern city of Kunming. The stores were modeled after the U.S. company's iconic stores right down to the winding staircase and the staff in blue T-shirts.

In early June, local media in eastern Shandong province exposed a fake university. Students who did not score high enough on the national college entrance exam to make it into university received sham admission letters to the Shandong Institute of Light Industry, a real school. The students paid nearly 30,000 yuan ($4,800) over the course of four years to attend classes.

Weeks before graduation, the students learned they would not get diplomas because they were not officially enrolled at the school but in a private training program that rents space from the institute, according to the state-run Jinan Times.

Among students, getting ahead by padding resumes or other subterfuge is common.

Experts point to many reasons for the widespread lack of scruples, from the need to be hypercompetitive to succeed in an overpopulated society to an ancient sage who countenanced lying to achieve a higher purpose.

Lin told Chinese reporters that it took him two years to negotiate the purchase of the U.S. bank, and that the bank had declared bankruptcy in 2008 because of the financial crisis. When his nonexistent bank was exposed in March, Lin said he made "exaggerations" to raise his social status and to win future opportunities in banking.

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