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December 16, 2009

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ATM thief waits to hear of release

CHINA'S supreme court has yet to approve a lower court's decision to commute the sentence of a former police school student who overdrew nearly 430,000 yuan (US$62,979) from a malfunctioning ATM from life imprisonment to 8 1/2 years.

If approved, He Peng, 28, will be released on January 16, China News Service reported yesterday.

He, then a freshman at Yunnan's provincial police academy, was sentenced on July 12, 2002 to life imprisonment for stealing the money.

The Higher People's Court in Yunnan Province decided to commute the sentence on November 18, the report said. He had unexpectedly discovered the ATM's malfunction and was tempted to take money from his own card.

All his appeals were denied and the Yunnan Higher People's Court upheld the original sentence.

After seven years in prison, He's case stirred attention when, in a similar case, the life sentence of Xu Ting, a young man in Guangzhou City, was commuted to five years after media coverage raised question about the judicial system.

Many lawyers then began to help He and vowed to get him a retrial.

He's father He Jiangui said he had sold all family property and spent the last eight years filing appeals.

He told Monday's Beijing News that he was curious "when suddenly seeing many zeros" when checking his account that was supposed to have only 10 yuan at an ATM on March 2, 2001.

He tried to withdraw from it and found those zeros were all real money.

Within one day he drew several thousand yuan from the card "thinking maybe some relatives have deposited the money for me," the newspaper quoted him as saying.

The second day, he drew hundreds of thousands of yuan from ATMs all over the provincial capital Kunming.

He took a total of 429,700 yuan.

He told the newspaper he still didn't think it was a crime but rather like picking up money on the street.

"If the bank comes to me, I'll return the money and everything will be okay," he was quoted as saying when asked if he had thought about any consequences when withdrawing the money. "If not, I'll keep the money."


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