The nation's auditors have been told to behave themselves, after one of them ate and drank himself to death after a month-long banquet binge organized by the government bureau he was investigating.
In an official circular to all of its provincial branches, the National Auditors Office admitted yesterday that the incident has "marred the image and influenced the public's trust" of auditing offices and auditors, who are at the centre of the war against graft and embezzlement.
The national office urged all of its staff to "learn a lesson" after 25-year-old Zhang Hongtao died while inspecting Yanshan County Electricity Bureau in North China's Hebei Province this April.
Zhang and his colleagues from Yanshan County Audit Office had repeatedly attended banquets organized by the bureau, and after one of them he vomited and died outside a restaurant. The day after Zhang's death, his team and two officials from the electricity bureau travelled for a sightseeing tour around East China, which was reportedly organized by the audited bureau.
"Auditors who violate regulations must be severely punished," said the National Audit Office, admitting Zhang and his team's wrongdoing had been discovered before recent media exposure.
The auditor and several colleagues went to audit electrical network upgrades at the Yanshan electrical power bureau in March and April.
"During their stay, the auditors usually spent the morning auditing, lunchtime drinking and eating and the afternoon on amusements such as massage and playing cards," said an earlier report.
Zhang's family said he told them the power bureau had treated them very well and had arranged several banquets for them.
Zhang called his family the day before he died, saying he could not pick up his son because the bureau had invited his group and some other supervision officials to another banquet.
That night, Zhang drank a lot of alcohol and later vomited. Zhang's family said they believed excessive drinking caused his death.
Zhang's associates and officials from the electricity bureau left for Yangzhou in Jiangsu Province just after his death.
Zhang's colleagues said most of them were too upset over the death to stay in the office, so they went to Yangzhou to relax.
Media reports questioned the auditors' professional ethics and the audit results.
A regulation issued in 2000 said auditors are not allowed to attend banquets, trips, entertainment events or parties held by bodies being audited.
The national office said the incident "sounded an alarm" to audit offices and auditors. All audit offices must learn from the incident and strengthen discipline.
China's audit offices, led by Auditor General Li Jinhua, have earned good reputation for their exposure of a number of major corruption cases in recent years.