Here’s more on the DaVinci media extortion case to which real estate mogul Pan Shiyi recently alluded to. The Singapore-based furniture company has accused a CCTV journalist by the name of Li Wenxue (李文学) of fabricating his reports and extorting 1 million yuan from the firm. Ho Aili, Beijing correspondent of the Straits Times, writes:
In accusations that have rocked China’s media circles as they involve powerful media organisations, Da Vinci told the progressive Caixin magazine it had paid nearly 20 million yuan in all to individuals including journalist Li Wenxue to try to settle the matter. It has since lodged a complaint against Mr Li for fabricating reports and conspiring with others to extort the company. Mr Li has denied any wrongdoing.
The latest twist comes as Da Vinci, which has been selling upmarket imported furniture in China since 2000, keeps up a fight to clear its name.
Its reputation was tarnished last July when CCTV aired undercover reports that cast doubts over whether its Italian goods were genuine. The scandal about fake foreign goods touched a raw nerve in a country where many of the newly rich think nothing of splashing out on foreign brands.
Public opinion in China was mixed following Da Vinci’s revelations. Some praised the furniture firm for daring to take on the broadcaster. ‘Who gave Da Vinci such steady confidence. Really admire (them),’ wrote lawyer Li Weimin on his Sina microblog.
But others asked why Da Vinci had to pay off the reporter. ‘Why did Da Vinci not spend the money to hire the best lawyers and sue CCTV instead of believing in unreliable hidden rules?’ asked a Sina microblog user named Wang Ran. Others also wondered why the company kept quiet until now.
Meanwhile, Caixin has released a damning audio soundbyte of a meeting between DaVinci CEO Doris Phua and the CCTV journalist Li Wenxue organised by a PR man hired by DaVinci to handle the case named Cui Bin (pictured below), who himself is supposedly the head of a Hong Kong-listed company. During the meeting Phua was cut off abruptly by Cui when she brought up the 1 million yuan she sent under the table to Li via a mysterious Hong Kong bank account. Cui then promptly lectured Phua and warned her not to bring up the matter while Li appeared to feign ignorance about the money, saying he had already done his part in preventing another 500 minutes of negative coverage from going on air on account of his friendship with Cui.
In a later phone call, Cui continued to “educate” Phua concerning the ways of the world, saying, “They’ll never admit they took a single cent from you, do you understand? How could you have said this out loud in my presence? You did all this through me… this had nothing to do with him… this is something that we all know but can’t spell out, do you understand?”
Cui has since been exposed on the interwebs as general manager of Beijing Times《京华时报》. The paper gave Mengniu its top award for corporate social responsibility in 2011, and also gave Lu Xingyu (卢星宇), the 24-year-old secretary-general of the China-Africa Project Hope, and daughter of Chinese billionaire Lu Junqing (卢俊卿) a special editorial award. Both Mengniu and Lu Xingyu touched off separate media firestorms in 2011, the former for the quality of its dairy products, and the latter over how she came to head a multi-million dollar charity at such a tender age.
Li’s credibility as a journalist has been thrown into doubt along with his work in the first CCTV documentary that gave rise to the DaVinci saga. The key witness from the Dongguan factory interviewed by Li was only a part-time runner, and not a general manager as claimed in the report. He now tells Caixin that he was misled by Li’s questions and misquoted.
In another video recently released by Italian furniture brand Cappelletti (seen below in Italian with Chinese captions), the company owner Tino Cappelletti reiterated his complete faith in DaVinci despite what appeared to be attempts by Li to sow mistrust.
Li has released a statement asserting he had nothing to do with the money that Phua sent under the table to various targets, and threatened to sue Phua for libel unless she publicly apologised to him.
The real battle, according to some, is not the one between DaVinci and CCTV but the one between Caixin and CCTV. Watch this space.