Wu Ying, a tycoon once listed among the richest women in China, has come to her last hope of survival.
The former 31-year-old billionaire, now on death row, is waiting for the top court's final review of her capital sentence, which was upheld by a local court last month, a few days ahead of the Chinese New Year.
Shen Ziming, the presiding judge of the case from the High People's Court of East China's Zhejiang province, told China News Service that the court endorsed the previous judgment after finding the defendant illegally raised up to 770 million yuan (US$122 million) from 11 lenders with the promise of high returns from 2005 to 2007, and hence should be "severely punished" for the apparent Ponzi-like scheme, as she has "brought huge losses to the nation and people with her serious crimes".
Shen said Wu concealed her debt to lenders and pretended to be financially powerful by "showing off jewelry and registering nominal companies".
According to China's criminal code, a person convicted of financial fraud is punishable by death if the money involved is "especially huge" and an "especially heavy loss" of the interests has been made to the state and the people.
Although some legal experts supported the judgment, wide sympathy and pleas for the fair-skinned woman with a short haircut have quickly ranked top on the country's most popular micro-blogging site.
Speculation swirled around both the suitability of the charge and whether capital punishment is too severe for a non-violent financial crime.
Zhang Sizhi, an 85-year-old barrister with national renown, wrote an open letter to the top court and pleaded for re-consideration when it exerted its right of review, for there are still "reasonable doubts".
Zhang Yanfeng, Wu's lawyer, argues that the case does not constitute the crime of financial fraud, a charge that requires fundraising from the general public by means of "swindling" for the purpose of illegal possession.
"9 out of the 11 lenders are Wu's old friends and should not be considered general public," said Yang Zhaodong, one of Wu's lawyers.
He then said Wu has used the funds to invest in trading companies, hotels and real estate, instead of using the money to cover existing debt and purchase personal luxuries as accused by the prosecutors.
Oral testimony shows the lenders still believe Wu borrowed the money to improve cash flow instead of illegal possession and personal indulgence.
"The last time I met her was in November 2011, and she looked robust," Yang said.
He said Wu's request to meet lawyers was turned down by the detention house one week before the provincial court announced the final verdict.
Insisting that his daughter is innocent, Wu Yongzheng, a slightly tanned man with a bony figure, said he believes his daughter is being treated unjustly because it "implicates government officials".
(source: Asia One)