2008: Wang Zhendong, ant profiteer

The two timeless pursuits of man — a bigger boodle, and a better boner — brought Wang Zhendong to execution in Liaoning province this date in 2008 for a nine-figure ant-farming scam. True story.

With the sort of screw-thy-neighbor entrepreneurial spirit of the times, the aptly-named Wang engorged himself to the tune of 3 billion yuan — around $400 million, give or take — running a pyramid scheme based on the reputed herbal aphrodisiac polyrhachis vicina roger. (Seriously, “roger”.)

From 2002 to 2005,* ten thousand Chinese investors fantasizing of 40 and 60% returns ponied up $1,300 a pop for ant-breeding kits with a street value of twenty-five bucks.

Sex: it makes men stupid.

The buyers were supposed to return the formicids after a few months so the company could process them into aphrodisiacs and miscellaneous other remedies … then watch the money gush. Some early investors were paid off by those who got sloppy seconds, but eventually the ponzi scheme collapsed and the pigeons realized that the ants they’d sprung for were really a pig in a poke.

By the time investigators cockblocked the company in 2005, less than 1% of the proceeds could be recovered. At least one sucker committed suicide realizing he had shot his life’s wad.

“He should just die,” one non-suicidal investor told the western press. “He hurt so many people. Some people even sold their house, their cars. People don’t have money, and they don’t have work. What can they do?” What, no bailout?

A “beware of ant scam artists” poster put up in Shanghai. Image (c) MFinChina and used with permission.

Besides Wang’s petite morte this day, fifteen of his company’s former managers drew prison sentences ranging from five to ten years.

* Everybody was doing it.

On this day..