NASCAR & Auto Racing

Former China F1 circuit boss convicted on embezzlement charges

SHANGHAI, China – The former head of Formula One racing in China has been convicted of embezzlement, state media said Wednesday.

Yu Zhifei, a former city government official and general manager of the Shanghai International Circuit, “embezzled large amounts of money and should bear criminal responsibility,” the China Daily quoted the prosecutor as saying at Yu’s one-day trial on Tuesday.

The report didn’t say if any sentence had been handed down by the Intermediate People’s Court in the city of Wuhu, west of Shanghai. Calls to the court Wednesday rang unanswered.

There were no indications the conviction would have any effect on the staging of the Oct. 7 Chinese Grand Prix at the Shanghai track, designed by famed German architect Hermann Tilke and located on former swamp land about an hour west of the city.

The charges date from 1997-99, prior to Yu’s taking on the job of racing circuit chief in 2001.

The 54-year-old Yu had been a major advocate for bringing Formula One to China, where the first race was staged in 2004. Supporters argue the races have burnished Shanghai’s image as an international center for business, travel and sports, but many have questioned the track’s reported $240 million price tag.

The China Daily said Yu, believed to be a close associate of Shanghai’s disgraced former Communist Party chief Chen Liangyu, had forged documents to embezzle $138,700 from the Shenhua soccer club while serving as its legal representative. He was also accused of making an unauthorized payment on behalf of the club to pay for part of an apartment he purchased.

Yu’s case was seen as a part of a wider crackdown on misuse of government pension funds in China’s commercial hub that last year toppled Chen, the city’s most powerful official. Chen has been kicked out of the Communist Party but it isn’t yet clear whether he has gone on trial.

A highway connecting downtown Shanghai to the Formula One circuit is allegedly among the projects tainted by the pension funds scandal, although there is no indication the track was built with diverted funds.

More than a dozen people are thought to have been targeted in the probe into misuse of city pension funds, about $400 million of which was improperly invested in real estate and road toll projects.