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Forbidden fruit leaves aftertaste for suspected thieves

By An Baijie  (China Daily)

10:09, August 17, 2012

Three unemployed men who stole 15 kilograms of peaches from an agricultural institute had no idea the fruit they were stealing was worth thousands of yuan to the institute's experimental research.

The Zhengzhou Fruit Research Institute had spent over 10 years cultivating the fruit that was worth an estimated 100,000 yuan ($15,700).

Niu Liang, a researcher at the institute that operates in Henan province under the Chinese Academy of Agriculture Sciences, told China Daily on Tuesday that peaches from the institute's experimental strains were stolen on Monday night.

Niu said the peaches, of nearly 20 different varieties, are the brainchild of the institute, which cost more than a decade to cultivate and an investment of more than 2 million yuan.

"Lots of the peaches are from the new-strain program of the institute's 12th five-year plan," Niu said. "Some of them are from State-sponsored projects."

With the help of his colleagues Niu managed to catch one of the three suspects in the orchard, the other two escaped.

Li Yonggang, the suspect caught by Niu, is a middle-aged man from the local village who has no idea about the real value of the peaches, according to a report of the Dahe Daily.

"I really didn't know that the peaches were so expensive," Li was quoted saying.

Li claimed he did not know the names of the other two suspects, and all of them were jobless men who met in front of the local Buddhism association where job-hunters usually gathered to wait for employers.

"I only knew that one of them is a fortuneteller, and the other one is an incense seller," Li told the Dahe Daily.

Niu Liang, the researcher, said he never thought the jobless men would take so many peaches.

"In the past, the suspects usually stole several peaches to eat and most of the other peaches remain on the trees, but this time they stole nearly all of the peaches from several single strains," Niu said. "Our research program is delayed for at least a year due to this theft, with an economic loss of more than 100,000 yuan."

Niu said that the institute has lots of difficulties in preventing the peaches from being stolen as it covers a large area of 47 hectares.

"It used to be a suburban region here with few people coming. However, with the urbanization process, it has become a downtown area now with lots of jobless people hanging around," he said.

Some of the institute workers were even beaten when they tried to stop the jobless people from stealing the fruits, Niu said.

Liu Shu'e, a worker at the institute said that the wall of the orchard was recently destroyed by a real estate developer, making it easier for thieves to sneak into the orchard.

"The color of the peaches is quite bright, attracting passers-by to steal," Liu said.

The institute is going to repair the destroyed wall of the orchard to avoid similar cases, said Niu Liang.

Chen Tao from the Beijing Lawyers' Association said the suspects are unlikely to be charged with criminal offences because they had no clue to the real value of the peaches they stole.

"What the suspects wanted to steal is just common peaches, not high-value scientific results; therefore, the volume of theft can be only weighed by the general value of the peaches," Chen said.

In a similar case in 2003, four migrant workers were caught stealing 23.5 kg of grapes from an institute in Beijing that were under cultivation in an experimental project and valued 11,220 yuan, according to a report from China Central Television.

In that case the court ruled the value of the stolen grapes should be 376 yuan, and only one of the four thieves spent time in custody while the other three were released without criminal charges.

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