November 22, 2007 / 9:04 AM / 12 years ago

Passions cool after China ant aphrodisiac protest

BEIJING (Reuters) - Tensions have eased after thousands of people in northeast China besieged government offices demanding help to get their money back from a get-rich-quick scheme to raise ants to make an aphrodisiac tonic.

Several thousand irate investors from across Liaoning, a rustbelt province striving to attract investment, demonstrated on the streets and surrounded the provincial government offices in the capital city Shenyang on Wednesday.

“The provincial government has paid great attention to this situation,” Zhang Yunqiang, propaganda director of the Liaoning provincial government, told Reuters. “The besieging of the office has gradually eased.”

The investors — many of them laid-off workers or farmers — put their savings into Shenyang’s Yilishen Group for a scheme in which they raised ants to provide ingredients for a health tonic promising an aphrodisiac boost.

For every 10,000 yuan ($1,350) they paid the company as “deposit”, investors were promised a dividend of 3,250 yuan.

But since October, the group has twice delayed payment of dividends, fuelling investor fears that it was on the brink of bankruptcy or that the government might have frozen its funds.

“Due to internal operational reasons, the group delayed payment of dividends twice, and the third delay on Tuesday caused discontent among the investors,” Zhang said.

He did not mention anything about funds being frozen.

The group was not available for comment.

“The Yilishen Group is a private enterprise, and it takes full responsibility for its own profits and losses.”

Chinese media have said the scheme collected more than 10 billion yuan from hundreds of thousands of Liaoning residents. Some reports said the ants were a useless ruse for an illegal fund-raising scam.

“The provincial government has no right to determine the nature of this scheme,” Zhang said.

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