An employee works at an aluminum products factory in Huaibei, Anhui. Credit: Li Xin/VCG via Getty Images It was a complex scheme for a simple crime: With dozens of shell corporations, a gargantuan aluminum stockpile in the central Mexican countryside and several warehouses scattered across Los Angeles and New Jersey ports, the Chinese aluminum firm Zhongwang Holdings successfully avoided U.S. tariffs for at least four years, defrauding the American government out of $1.8 billion. Liu Zhongtian toasts during the ceremony for Zhongwang Holdings' listing on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, May 8, 2009. Credit: Imaginechina via AP Images The time was the early 2010s, and privately-owned Zhongwang was one of the world’s largest aluminum producers, a globally dominant force that generated hundreds of millions in annual profits. The company's 2009 IPO in Hong Kong made the its founder, Liu Zhongtian, a billionaire — completing the rags-to-riches story of a man who built an empire on the back of China’s economic rise and its booming trade with the United States. Zhongwang’s businessSubscribe or login to read the rest. Subscribers get full access to: Exclusive longform investigative journalism, Q&As, news and analysis, and data on Chinese business elites and corporations. We publish China scoops you won't find anywhere else. A weekly curated reading list on China from David Barboza, Pulitzer Prize-winning former Shanghai correspondent for The New York Times. A daily roundup of China finance, business and economics headlines. We offer discounts for groups, institutions and students. Go to our Subscriptions page for details.