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The letter that landed on the doormat of a London home on a cold, wet January morning seemed intriguing, enticing and potentially life-changing.
Personally addressed, it appeared to come from the Causeway Bay home of a Chinese banking executive based in Hong Kong and offered an illicit opportunity to share an unclaimed, $12.2 million fortune.
Wei Dingxiang, as he introduced himself, claimed to be a director of private banking with the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) handling the estate of a westerner called Jeffrey who had invested his money with the bank.
When Jeffrey was in the process of liquidating his assets, however, he had died in an accident in the Chinese mainland, leaving no will and with no next of kin, meaning his fortune would revert to the Chinese state unless it was claimed.
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Now came the clever bit. Wei was writing to the addressee because he shared the same, rather unusual family surname as Jeffrey — creating a unique opportunity for a piece of illicit business that could make both banker and addressee wealthy. For safety’s sake, he had asked a friend visiting the UK to post the letter on his behalf.
“What I propose is that since I have exclusive access to the file, you will be made the beneficiary of these funds,” Wei wrote. “Through my covert efforts, my bank will contact you informing (you) that money has been assigned to you.
“I know this might be a bit heavy for you but please trust me on this. For your troubles I propose that we split the money in half. In banking circles this happens every time. The other option is that the money will revert back to the state. Nobody is getting hurt; this is a lifetime opportunity for us.”
Wei appeared sincere, articulate and almost poetic in his furtive appeal. “Please, note I am a family man; I have a wife and children. I send you this mail not without a measure of fear as to the consequences, but I know that nothing ventured is nothing gained and that success and riches never come easy or on a platter of gold.”
A platter of gold, nevertheless, is what appears to be on offer, so the China Daily decided to investigate the source of the letter in Hong Kong and to communicate with Wei to see how sincere and genuine he really was.
In this, we had an advantage over the recipient of the letter in London: We could actually visit the address in the letter and ask Wei to meet us in Hong Kong. And the more we communicated with Wei and the closer we got to a meeting, the more his story fell apart.