BEIJING (Reuters) - A farmer in northern China found guilty of doctoring photos of an endangered tiger after collecting a cash reward from wildlife authorities, has been handed a lighter sentence on appeal, local media said on Tuesday.
Zhou Zhenglong, a 54-year-old farmer from a mountainous county in northern Shaanxi province, was awarded a 20,000 yuan bonus last year, after he produced pictures which authorities said were evidence of a South China tiger.
The pictures, which showed a tiger crouching in a forest setting, sparked an Internet furor led by experts who identified the photos as faked, and local media who accused officials of endorsing them as a means of promoting tourism in a poor region.
After months of dithering, authorities finally admitted the pictures were fake and sacked a swag of officials for their part in the scandal.
Zhou, who had been given a 2 and year jail term for fraud and illegally possessing bullets in September, had the sentence suspended at his appeal, Xinhua news agency said, citing the Intermediate People’s Court in Ankang, Shaanxi.
The court took note of the defendant’s admission of guilt and “obvious regret” and gave Zhou a three-year reprieve, but a 2,000 yuan fine and an order to give back the cash reward were upheld, the Beijing News said in a separate report.
Authorities bore guilt for enabling the fraud through the “cursory release of the news by relevant departments,” Xinhua quoted Zhou’s lawyers as saying outside the court.
China has been rocked by a number of scandals involving official endorsement of faked photos.
In February, the chief editor of a Chinese newspaper quit after one of its photographers faked a prize-winning photo of endangered Tibetan antelopes appearing unfazed by a passing train on the Qinghai-Tibet railway.
Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani