China accuses tycoon of murder


Authorities on Thursday accused a Chinese mining tycoon of running a vast mafia that blackmailed, beat and gunned down rivals in daytime attacks, traveled in Rolls-Royces and Ferraris and fostered ties to prosecutors and police with drug-fueled parties.

The high-level investigation centering on Liu Han — the former multimillionaire chairman of energy conglomerate Sichuan Hanlong Group, with stakes in Australian and U.S. mining companies — plus his brother Liu Wei and 34 associates has exposed ties between organized crime and Chinese officialdom.

The gang bust in southwestern China appears to be part of a sprawling shake-up of Sichuan province that has ensnared senior politicians and influential businessmen in a wide-ranging corruption crackdown launched by President Xi Jinping. Many of the Sichuan cases are believed linked to Zhou Yongkang, a former security czar who until recently was one of the country’s most powerful leaders, and is reportedly himself the subject of a graft investigation.

The Liu brothers have been charged with 15 crimes, including murder, assault and illegal detention, the official Xinhua News Agency 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, Xinhua said.

Investigators have uncovered evidence showing that over the past decade or so, the gang committed crimes that led to the deaths of nine people — five of whom were shot, Xinhua said. Police seized three military-issue hand grenades, a half-dozen submachine guns, 20 pistols and other firearms, 677 bullets and more than 100 knives.

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 over losses in a deal. He called himself “Liu Han, the only survivor.”

The gang is accused of blackmailing, threatening, beating up and even murdering their business rivals and ordinary people while bribing police and prosecutors to protect their associates and dealings, the report said. They owned a fleet of several hundred cars that included Rolls-Royces, Bentleys and Ferraris.

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. Liu’s brother Liu Wei — who later became an A-list fugitive wanted by police — even served as a torchbearer during the 2008 Olympic torch relay.