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China’s Push to Purge Organized Crime Casts Shadow Over Private Businesses

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Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s push to crush organized crime has led to prosecutions and asset seizures targeting prominent entrepreneurs and sent chills through private businesses in the world’s second-largest economy.

The campaign has fallen heavily on people like Zhang Wei, who built businesses in lending, asset management and real-estate investment in the southern city of Shenzhen, where he also became a municipal lawmaker.

Police accused him of running an “underworld-style” crime syndicate that engaged in fraud, blackmail and other offenses. In May, a Shenzhen court sentenced Mr. Zhang to life in prison and confiscated assets—including property, stocks and an Airbus A319 jet—that his family estimates to be worth more than $1 billion.

Mr. Zhang has admitted to giving bribes and asking associates to trespass on a private residence, but he denied all other charges against him. His lawyers and family say his alleged misdeeds didn’t fit government definitions of “underworld-style” crimes and that his punishment was vastly disproportionate. Mr. Zhang couldn’t be reached for further comment.

The case against Mr. Zhang and others like it have alarmed some entrepreneurs and legal experts, who say the Communist Party’s zealous enforcement threatens to undermine the private sector.

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