Local authorities have ordered a foster care center in Shaoguan, South China's Guangdong Province closed following media reports of 20 deaths at the facility in 49 days this year.
Records of a local funeral home show that, from January 1 to February 18, the Lianxi Foster Center of Xinfeng county, Shaoguan, an NGO registered in 2010, delivered 20 corpses, The Beijing News reported on Monday.
On March 8, Xinfeng police detained the center's legal representative, Luo Lifang, for alleged embezzlement.
Shaoguan police, civil affairs authorities and other departments have formed a special team to investigate the deaths, and four managers of the center were "placed under coercive measures," the Nanfang Daily said Monday.
The civil affairs bureau of Xinfeng county has demanded that Lianxi Foster Center rectify its mistakes, and asked other institutes to take over the 733 people at the center, The Beijing News said.
"People were sent to Lianxi Foster Center healthy, but conditions there are very poor," an anonymous employee said, adding that people there have died of pneumonia, mainly because of its "poor sanitation."
Lei Wenfeng, a 15-year-old boy with autism, was found dead on December 3, 2016 after he went missing on October 19, 2016. The People's Hospital of Xinfeng county said that Lei died of typhoid fever.
Lei's father said employees at the funeral home told him that each year, only two or three corpses could be recognized by their families.
Since "many people in the foster center did not know their own name," the corpses were marked as "anonymous," and only labeled with numbers, The Beijing News reported.
Chen Bing (pseudonym), a former employee at the facility, said that the foster center has two areas: one for children and seniors, and the other for the ill, homeless and disabled.
Nearby villagers said that the foster center was a "mysterious place," which they said used to be Xinfeng's detention house.
Luo Lifang's relative, Luo Teng (pseudonym), said that the Xinfeng government paid 660 yuan ($95.60) for each person the Lianxi Foster Center took over from other institutes. That means the center made from "1 or 2 million yuan" a year.
Luo Teng said Luo Lifang had been calling the police and reporting to the government to defend her rights before she was detained, The Beijing News reported.
According to Luo Teng and others familiar with the case, some local officials were also involved in managing the center since it was founded. Shaoguan's disciplinary watchdog is investigating officials allegedly involved.