Beijing has got more than it bargained for in its drive to promote overseas investment by Chinese companies, including more than a dozen French vineyards.
In its annual report to China’s parliament, the National Audit Office said that two companies based in the northeastern port city of Dalian had spent Rmb268m ($43m) in subsidies earmarked for technology acquisitions on 14 wineries in France.
The auditor uncovered other abuses, including a detour to Las Vegas by state geologists ostensibly in North America to study the shale gas boom.
One group of officials affiliated with the State Oceanic Administration spent half of the time allocated for an Antarctic expedition in France and, more reasonably, Chile.
The annual report is a highlight on the calendar of the National People’s Congress, China’s legislature. It routinely reveals examples of amusing misconduct amid Beijing’s otherwise serious anti-corruption campaign that has netted dozens of high-ranking officials, or so-called tigers.
The latest review covered almost 400 government bodies accounting for one-third of government budget spending last year, or Rmb154bn. It listed more than 300 “major violations of laws and discipline” involving about 1,100 officials, up from 175 instances in its previous report.
The auditor did not, however, provide a total value figure for the fraud uncovered or name and shame the officials involved.
Companies and institutions criticised included China National Petroleum Corporation, the company that manages state cotton reserves, and the transport ministry, which held 87 meetings at five-star hotels.
“Situations such as these are quite common at state companies,” said Gao Minghua, director of Beijing Normal University’s corporate governance centre. “The government provides support that often isn’t necessary and is easily abused. The government needs to act more like an investor.”
Executives at Dalian Shide Group and Ruiyang (Dalian) Investment Management declined to comment on alleged investments in French grapes yesterday, saying they were unaware of the report.
In a separate report last week, the auditor accused China Investment Corp of mismanagement, dereliction of duty and other failings. The world’s fourth-largest sovereign wealth fund has $650bn in assets under management, with about a third of its portfolio invested overseas.
CIC, an investor in companies such as Blackstone and Morgan Stanley, has since said it would focus more on agriculture and global food supplies.
The auditor also keeps tabs on one of China’s biggest economic challenges – the mountain of debt accumulated by local governments, which it estimated at Rmb18tn as of June 2013.
The auditor said debts in 19 provinces and cities it surveyed had grown a further 4 per cent in the nine months to March.
Additional reporting by Wan Li
国家海洋局(State Oceanic Administration)的一批官员将南极考察的一半行程花在法国和智利（后者相对说得过去一些）。
“这样的情况在国有企业是相当常见的，”北京师范大学(Beijing Normal University)公司治理与企业发展研究中心主任高明华表示。“政府提供的支持往往是不必要的，而且很容易被滥用。政府在行为上需要变得更像一个投资者。”