BEIJING (AP) — A mining tycoon, his brother and 34 associates stood trial Monday on allegations of running a vast criminal gang in China's Sichuan province that gunned down rivals, maintained fleets of Ferraris and bribed police to avoid prosecution.
The trial centers around Liu Han, former multimillionaire chairman of energy conglomerate Sichuan Hanlong Group, with stakes in Australian and U.S. miners, in a case that has exposed ties between organized crime and Chinese officialdom.
Liu, his brother Liu Wei and the 34 others went on trial in the Xianning Intermediate People's Court in neighboring Hubei province, the court said on its official microblog. Having the case handled outside of Sichuan indicates it is being steered by the central government and reflects concerns the defendants may still wield influence in their home province.
The gang bust appears to be part of a wide-ranging corruption crackdown launched by President Xi Jinping that has ensnared senior politicians and influential businessmen. Many of the Sichuan cases are believed linked to Zhou Yongkang, a key player in the China's energy industry before he became security czar and one of the country's most powerful politicians. He reportedly himself is the target of a wide-ranging graft investigation.
The Liu brothers and their associates have been charged with 15 crimes, including murder, assault, illegal detention, blackmail and operating casinos, the court said. The alleged gang's criminal activities, dating to 1993, helped them amass 40 billion yuan ($6.5 billion) in assets with businesses in finance, energy, real estate and mining, China's state Xinhua News Agency has said.
The gang is accused in the deaths of nine people, five of whom were fatally shot, and police have seized hand grenades, a half-dozen submachine guns, 20 pistols and other firearms from gang members. Liu Han was No. 148 in 2012 on Forbes magazine's list of the richest Chinese businesspeople, with a fortune estimated at $855 million. He told The Wall Street Journal in 2010 that an investor once shot up his car after suffering losses in a deal. He called himself "Liu Han, the only survivor."
The gang is accused of blackmailing, threatening, beating up and slaying business rivals and ordinary people while bribing police and prosecutors to protect their associates and dealings. They owned a fleet of several hundred cars that included Rolls-Royces, Bentleys and Ferraris, according to state media reports.
They allegedly also fostered strong political ties in Sichuan that helped appoint Liu Han as a delegate of the provincial political advisory body for three consecutive terms, Xinhua said. Among the accused are three officials in city-level police and prosecutors' offices in Sichuan, Xinhua said, adding that Liu Wei's testimony showed the officials were paid off with money and gifts as well as weekly parties with illicit drugs.