A Hangzhou Intermediate People’s Court on Tuesday sentenced two businessmen Huang Dingfang and Cai Keyi to life in prison for their roles in a 15.6 billion yuan (2.4 billion dollars) pyramid scheme.

The court said that Huang set up a firm called Longyan E-commerce Co., Ltd. in January 2015 and worked with another firm owned by Cai to swindle 200,000 investors of the 2.4 billion dollars.

They promised annual returns of more than 250 per cent if investors became members by paying 4,000 yuan each and then bought tea and company shares.

They set up a third firm to sell shares saying that the firm would go public in the U.S.

Ding Wenping, chief financial officer of Longyan E-commerce, and Sun Shijia, its president, were sentenced to 12 and 10 years in prison, respectively.

Seventeen others were given sentences of up to nine years each after being found guilty of illegally absorbing public deposits.

The court ordered the 21 defendants to return 5.7 billion yuan to more than 170,000 investors.

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