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China sentences mining tycoon Liu to death

BEIJING -- A Chinese court on Friday convicted a mining billionaire said to have links with former security tsar Zhou Yongkang of murder and sentenced him to death.

Liu Han led private company Hanlong, which once launched a billion-dollar bid for an Australian firm. He and his brother Liu Wei were found guilty of “organizing and leading a mafia-style group,” murder and other crimes, the Xianning Intermediate People's Court said.

They and three accomplices were sentenced to death.

The Liu brothers' gang, based in the southwestern province of Sichuan, killed eight people and wounded many others over nearly 20 years, the court said in a posting on China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo.

“Liu Han and Liu Wei had extremely malicious intentions, their acts were exceptionally atrocious, their social influences were extremely vile and their crimes and the consequences were extremely serious,” it said. “They should be severely punished according to the law.”

Another 31 accused were given penalties ranging from suspended death sentences — normally commuted to life imprisonment — to three years in jail, state media said.

Sichuan is one of the power bases of Zhou Yongkang, who once enjoyed vast power as China's security chief but is now at the center of rumors about a corruption investigation. He has not been seen in public for months.

The influential business magazine Caixin has reported that Liu Han once had dealings with a businessman believed to be Zhou's son. State media have also hinted that the gang had connections to central government officials.

The verdicts suggest officials are building a case against Zhou Yongkang, said Zhang Ming, a political scientist at Renmin University in Beijing.

“These cases are being used to collect evidence against Zhou, I think this verdict is preparation for Zhou's trial,” he said.

Senior party leaders “don't want to punish Zhou Yongkang as a political case, but as a corruption case. Although it could be hard to find evidence against him,” he added.

Scores of people with connections to Zhou have reportedly been detained in recent months.

“It's not certain whether he will face trial, that depends on how strong his remaining political ties are,” Zhang said.

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 China sentences mining tycoon to death 
In this Jan. 16, 2011 file photo, Liu Han, the former billionaire chairman of energy conglomerate Sichuan Hanlong Group with stakes in Australian and U.S. mines, is seen in Chengdu in southwestern China's Sichuan province. (AP)

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