A man accused of conning Beijing Hospital out of thousands of yuan in medical fees to save his seriously ill wife has promised to pay the money back in the hope of getting a light sentence.
Liao Dan, a 41-year-old Beijing resident, stands accused of copying the hospital's seal and using it to make fake receipts for the blood dialysis treatments of his wife, Du Jinling, who has uremia. He is said to have committed those deeds from November 2007 to September 2011.
The total cost of the treatments was about 172,000 yuan (S$34,130), according to court authorities, who said Liao confessed to the crimes he is accused of on Wednesday at the Dongcheng District People's Court.
"The judge hasn't handed down a verdict in the case yet," Sun Ying, a publicity officer for the court, said on Sunday.
Liao's trial was soon picked up by Chinese media and has become a subject of much discussion. Since the start of the trial, more than 1.58 million netizens on Sina Weibo, a popular micro-blogging website, have discussed the topic. Many have offered Liao donations.
On Sunday, Liao told China Daily he had decided to use the 170,000 yuan given to him by Chen Lihao, a member of Guangdong province's Zhuhai Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, to pay his debt to the hospital on Monday morning.
"I learned about Chen's donation (which was sent directly to his bank account) on Friday afternoon, when I was accompanying my wife for her regular treatment," he said. "But it was too late in the day to go to court."
On Friday, Chen posted a picture of a document showing the bank transfer on his micro blog. He said he has spoken to a reporter in Beijing who works for Southern Metropolis Daily in Guangdong about the case, asking her to accompany Liao as he returns the money.
"My wife and I were off work," Liao said. "We're too poor to afford the medical fees, which come to more than 5,000 yuan a month. So I had to make the fake official seal and pay vouchers to the hospital to keep up my wife's dialysis treatments."
Du, from Hebei province, does not have permanent residency in Beijing, which means she does not qualify to receive medical insurance in the capital, Liao said, adding that the donations have brought hope to the couple and their 12-year-old son.
"The judge told me that if I can pay the money, I might get off lightly," Liao said. "Thanks to Chen, I can pay the money back at one time.
"It's also been a favourable turn of events for me because so many kind-hearted netizens have been helping us. I'll go on caring for Du and helping her get dialysis if I can get off with a light punishment."
The Criminal Law states that someone convicted of fraud will face a sentence of three to 10 years in prison, said Zhao Li, an attorney with Beijing King and Bond Law Firm.
Even so, judges can look at a swindler's decision to return stolen money and use that as a reason to issue a lighter sentence, he said.
"Liao may be put on probation if his sentence is reduced to three years," he said. "If that happens, he could be punished and still be able to take care of his wife."
However, Yi Shenghua, a lawyer at Yingke Law Firm who has paid close attention to the case, did not think Liao would receive probation and said public opinion should not be allowed to sway the court.
"I understand many netizens say the court should reduce Liao's sentence and give him support and donations," he said. "But I don't want to see public opinion affect the judge's independent verdict."
No matter how moving Liao's story is and how poor his family is, he should take responsibility for the crime he is accused of if he is convicted, he said.
"Liao can get probation if he returns the money," he said. "But that must be the result of an independent and fair judgment, not the will of the public. Otherwise, the case will impede our judicial work."