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Life imprisonment for Tibet's richest man

August 13, 2010

Jane Macartney, Beijing
The Times (UK)
August 12, 2010

A Chinese court has sentenced to life
imprisonment a hotel owner believed to the
country's richest Tibetan businessman.

Once hailed by authorities in Tibet as one of the
region's top 10 most outstanding young people,
37-year-old Dorje Tashi was sentenced on June 26
after a three-day trial by the Lhasa Municipality
Intermediate People's Court, Tibetan sources told /The Times/.

His elder brother, Dorje Tseten, was jailed for six years, the sources said.

No details were available about the charges on
which the two brothers were convicted. If the
charges were politically linked then such secrecy
is not unusual in Tibet where officials are
anxious not to stir up renewed unrest among the
deeply Buddhist population, many of whom resent
Beijing rule and yearn for the return of the exiled Dalai Lama.

The absence of any reports in the Chinese
state-run media underscored the possibility that
the arrests of the two men may have been related
to activities deemed by the authorities to be of a political nature.

However, court sources have said the conviction
was based on "illegal business operations"
involving his Yak Hotel -- one of the best-known
and oldest in Lhasa. They refused to say whether
political charges had contributed to the severity of the sentence.

The court confiscated all of Dorje Tashi's
personal property, estimated at 4.3 billion yuan
(£430 million), the sources said.

Dorje Tashi was arrested just weeks after an
anti-Chinese riot rocked the Tibetan capital,
Lhasa, on March 8, 2008 and had been held
incommunicado and without charges ever since. His
elder brother was detained a few months later.

The businessman was well known in Lhasa after he
founded the Yak Hotel, one of the first private
inns to open in the city and situated on one of
the main roads in the old part of the town. The
Yak Hotel remains a favourite among foreign and
domestic tourists visiting the capital of the
Himalayan region, serving both Chinese food and a
menu listing cappuccinos and pasta to appeal to
foreign visitors. It expanded rapidly from a
small two-storey hostel in the mid-1980s to a
sprawling compound with a restaurant overlooking the street.

Dorje Tashi had many other business interests and
was believed to have close links with the Chinese
authorities in Tibet that had enabled him to
build up his enterprises and which prompted many
Tibetans to regard him as something of a turncoat.

Shortly after his arrest, reports surfaced that
he had been held on charges of corruption.
However, Tibetan sources said there were also
rumours that, like many other well-off Tibetans,
he had donated some of his wealth to monasteries or even to the Dalai Lama.

Such donations would have enraged the authorities
after most of the main monasteries in and around
Lhasa staged peaceful demonstrations in the days
leading up to the March 14, 2008 riot.

Robbie Barnett, a Tibet expert at Columbia
University , said the harsh sentence underlined
talk in Tibet of a pattern or retribution against
prosperous Tibetans suspected of giving money to monasteries.

He said: "It looks like a long-term drive among
Tibet officials to oppose and criticise lay
donations to monasteries. It is baffling because
leading businessmen have always avoided politics
as far as anyone has ever known and have
benefited from the current Chinese economic system."

He said the sentencing of such a prominent
Tibetan figure could have been kept secret to
avoid inflaming local sentiment. "This risks
causing deep rifts between the Tibetan community and the government."
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