Hong Kong's rent-a-hawker syndicate busted

Illegal street vendors and corrupt officials were in cahoots.

Published February 15, 2000 5:00PM (EST)

What do you do when you're a hawker who's been busted for selling on the
street without a license? In Hong Kong, the answer is easy. You hire a licensed hawker to stand trial for you.

The licensed vendor shows up in court, gives his or her own name and walks
away with a small fine. The unlicensed hawker pays the fine, pays the stand-in and pays the
people who make the whole scheme work -- government officials who are, ahem, not opposed to a little payola.

It was all proceeding swimmingly until Hong Kong's Independent Commission
Against Corruption caught on to the ruse. According to an Associated Press
report, an 84-year-old woman admitted under oath that she was a
rent-a-hawker, receiving $8 (U.S.) each time she showed up in court in place of a vendor caught selling goods illegally. She did this at least 105 times.

Her admission sent feathers flying and 29 people to jail. The Chinese
government has no sympathy for curbside scofflaws -- last year, it threw
50,824 unlicensed peddlers in the slammer.

It's going to be that much more difficult to buy that bootleg 'N Sync CD

By J.A. Getzlaff

J.A. Getzlaff's Daily Planet appears every weekday. Do you have a tip or tale for J.A.? Send it to DailyPlanet@salon.com.

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