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October 17, 2009

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Entrapment claimed in seizure of 'black cab'

A SHANGHAI company said yesterday that one of its drivers was entrapped by traffic authorities investigating illegal cabs, and it is threatening legal action if the case is not quashed.

Similar allegations have been raised by other drivers who claim the traffic watchdog, which is in the midst of a two-year crackdown that has generated millions of yuan in fines, used bounty hunters to manufacture false evidence.

In the latest incident, the driver was so disturbed about the allegation that he cut off part of a finger in a misguided attempt to prove his innocence. The Shanghai Traffic Law Enforcement Team for Pudong New Area has detained the company's vehicle and is investigating the case.

If the driver, Sun Zhongjie, who works for Shanghai Pangyuan Construction Machinery Engineering Co Ltd, is found guilty, Sun or the company will have to pay a fine of 10,000 yuan (US$1,465) to retrieve the confiscated minibus.

The company said Sun was innocent and claimed the 19-year-old was set up by the traffic team on a charge of operating an unlicensed cab after he picked up a pedestrian who asked for a lift.

"We think the team used entrapment," said Zhang Lili, an attorney for the firm. "Our company will take legal action if the enforcement team doesn't cancel the charge."

Charge denied

Authorities, however, denied any wrongdoing.

"The hitchhiker was not our man," Yan Liangming, deputy general commander of the traffic team, said in a TV interview. Yan also said the team had evidence to support its actions.

The conflict began at about 7:30pm on Wednesday. Sun was driving the company's minibus to a supermarket in Pudong and encountered a young man standing in the middle of his lane waving at him. The man, wearing a thin shirt, claimed to be cold and pleaded for a ride, Sun said.

Before Sun agreed, the man got into his vehicle and Sun drove on. After about a five-minute ride, the man jumped out of the minibus and left 10 yuan behind, Sun said. At about the same time, Sun was stopped by two minibuses from which several men emerged.

Sun said he was forced to sign a penalty notice admitting he was operating an illegal cab or they wouldn't let him go. They then drove off in his vehicle.

Saying he felt aggrieved, Sun went home and cut off the little finger of his left hand with a knife.

"I wanted to prove my innocence." Sun said, without specifying how the action would accomplish that goal.

Sun was then sent to an army hospital where his finger was reattached.

Bounty offered

Zhang Liwei, an official with Shanghai Traffic Law Enforcement General Team, told a local newspaper yesterday that none of the 15 district teams hired private agents to entrap drivers. But Zhang said that people who help catch illegal cabbies can receive bounties of 200 to 300 yuan.

Shanghai's Minhang District People's Court accepted a lawsuit a week ago by a driver against the district's Traffic Law Enforcement Team, which fined him 10,000 yuan for operating an unlicensed cab. The driver, Zhang Jun, alleged entrapment and said he was merely giving a ride to an apparently sick stranger.

Four months ago, a driver was allegedly entrapped by the law enforcement team in Baoshan District. He later sued the team but a court dismissed the case.

In 2008, a Minhang driver unsuccessfully sued traffic authorities twice over what he said were false charges of operating an unlicensed cab.

The same year, a woman was stabbed by an unlicensed taxi driver while she was working undercover for the taxi watchdog.

"These undercover investigators are supported by the teams and get money for catching black cabbies," a veteran licensed cab driver told China Youth Daily.

There are thousands of these bounty hunters in the city, mostly in suburban areas where black taxis are rampant, he said.


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