Moutai, the fiery Chinese baijiu, is the most sought-after spirits brand in China (pic: stock image)
China Wine

‘Shocking’ corruption revealed for former head of world’s most valuable liquor brand

From hoarding luxury handbags and watches to receiving a bizarre gift of 5kg pure gold drinking vessel, China’s anti-graft watchdog has revealed details of shocking corruption committed by the former head of the world’s most valuable liquor brand.

From hoarding luxury handbags and watches to receiving a bizarre gift of 5kg pure gold drinking vessel, China’s anti-graft watchdog has revealed details of shocking corruption committed by the former head of the world’s most valuable liquor brand.

The shocking details of corruption and bribery committed by former chairman of Kweichow Moutai, China’s most known luxury liquor brand, laid bare the decadent lifestyles and for-profit business that propped up Moutai’s sky-high prices and heighted its supply shortage problem inside the US$500 billion company.

Yuan Renguo, former chairman of Moutai, was sentenced life in prison for corruption. (pic: Caixin)
Yuan Renguo, former chairman of Moutai, was sentenced life in prison for corruption. (pic: Caixin)

Yuan Renguo, who served as Chairman of Kweichow Moutai from 2011 to 2018, was arrested in 2019 on corruption charges and was found guilty of taking bribes of RMB 112 million (US$17.2 million) between 1994 and 2018, but the scale and depth of his corruption were not revealed until China’s top prosecutor recounted what it calls “shocking” details in a recent WeChat post.

According to authorities, Yuan leveraged his position to take large amount of bribes and assisted his cronies and associates in securing much-coveted Moutai distribution deals and prized allocations.

Moutai, being the most sought-after liquor inside China, was carefully distributed and tightly allocated due to its blistering market demand.

It promoted local government in its home province Guizhou to cap its flagship ‘Feitian’ or ‘Flying Fair’s price at RMB 1500 (US$235), but it often sells for RMB 3000 a bottle in secondary market, and is still “hard to come by”, according to media reports. Vintage Moutai from 1950s can fetch a quarter of a million at auctions.

According to anti-graft officers, it took 44 officers to list out more than 1,588 items of bribes taken by Yuan including gold products, watches, jewelry, luxury handbags, paintings and among others.

A 5kg pure gold Ding or drinking vessel was gifted to Yuan (pic: screen grab)
A 5kg pure gold Ding or drinking vessel was gifted to Yuan (pic: screen grab)

In one of the most bizarre cases, Yuan was gifted by a crony a 5kg pure gold Ding (鼎), a Chinese cauldron or drinking vessel with personalized inscription of his given name (仁国).

It was also revealed that his wife and daughter have profited RMB 230 million (US$36 million) from illegal Moutai sales since 2004.

Yuan’s arrest in 2019 triggered a wider anti-corruption crackdown within the state-owned distillery and local government in Guizhou. One of Yuan’s close contact in local government, Wang Xiaoguang, vice governor of Guizhou, was found to have secured distribution deals with Moutai for his family and relatives, thanks to his connection to Yuan, profiting RMB 40 million (US$6.2 million) over 7 years.

Strikingly, to the shock of anti-graft officers, one of Wang’s rooms was stuffed with more than 4000 bottles of Moutai. For fear of corruption investigation, Wang even poured bottles of vintage Moutai into sewage to destroy evidence before his arrest.

Wang was sentenced to 20 years in prison and slapped with RMB 173 million in fine.

Moutai, the fiery Chinese baijiu, is the most sought-after spirits brand in China (pic: stock image)
Moutai, the fiery Chinese baijiu, is the most sought-after spirits brand in China (pic: stock image)

Like Champagne, Moutai is only produced in the Moutai town of Guizhou in southwestern China and more precisely, only baijiu made in Moutai town by Kweichow Moutai can be called Moutai.

Made from red sorghum, the transparent liquor of Moutai was the tipple of choice by China’s revolutionaries including Chairman Mao Zedong and the country’s first premier Zhou Enlai. Its fiery strength stumped US president Richard Nixon on his first trip to China in 1972.

It’s often the drink of choice at banquets and business meetings, and its market value overtook Diageo in 2017 to become the world’s most valuable spirit brand.

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