- Liu Han found guilty of "organising and leading mafia-style crime and murder"
- Liu ran the largest private enterprise in China's Sichuan Province
- State media reports he came to attention of central authorities after alleged shooting in 2009
- Nine murders are linked to his alleged syndicate, which includes his brother, Liu Wei
Former mining tycoon Liu Han and his brother have been sentenced to death, China's state media Xinhua reports. Both men have been found guilty of "mafia-style crime" and murder by a provincial court in Hubei.
The two are among 36 people found guilty of similar crimes, including organized crime and homicide and given sentences ranging from the death penalty to long prison terms and fines.
Liu Han is former board chairman of the Sichuan Hanlong Group, the largest private enterprise in the southwest Chinese province of Sichuan, with interests including mining, real estate, electricity, energy and finance. The 48-year-old also holds major stake in a number of Australian companies. Official Chinese news sources estimate his wealth, which was seized when he was arrested, as being in the "tens of billions of yuan," or billions of U.S. dollars.
His case is one of the most high-profile against a private businessman since Chinese president Xi Jinping launched a crackdown on corruption when he came into power last year.
State media have also reported that Liu's rise coincided with Zhou Yongkang's term as head of Communist Party in Sichuan province. Zhou, a former member of the Politburo Standing Committee, is believed to be the ultimate target of Xi's anti-corruption drive. Reuters have also reported that sources say Liu was once a business associate of Zhou Bin, Zhou Yongkang's eldest son.
Liu was detained last year along with his younger brother Liu Wei on suspicion of criminal activities. The trial against the brothers and 34 of their associates began in Xianning Intermediate People's Court in Hubei Province on March 31, when a photograph of Liu Han in the court's dock, flanked by policemen, was published on social media networks by state news agencies.
Gang of thugs
According to the report, the Liu brothers started out running gambling centers in their base in Guanghan, China's southern Sichuan Province, in the early 1990s, gathering around them "a gang of local thugs and vagrants."
The report said the brothers' empire grew, before finally attracting the attention of central authorities with an alleged public shooting at a Guanghan teahouse one afternoon in January, 2009, supposedly directed at an underworld rival.
According to the report, the two suspects detained over the attack, which killed three and injured two, allegedly identified Liu Wei as having ordered the attack.
Liu Han also developed a reputation as a philanthropist, building a rural school campus following a 2008 earthquake that devastated Sichuan Province. His brother also had a reputation for charity, and had been a torch-bearer in the build-up to the Beijing Olympics, also in 2008, according to Xinhua.
Large numbers of senior Communist Party officials are reportedly attending the trial, which is being closely watched for any signs of links to a potential investigation into former senior official Zhou Yongkang. The 71-year old was a member of the Politburo Standing Committee, China's top decision-making body, before he retired in 2012, and previously served as the czar of China's domestic security apparatus, and as the party chief in Sichuan from 1999 to 2002.
Speculation has swirled in recent times that Zhou is set to become the next high-profile target of President Xi Jinping's heralded anti-corruption purge.
Chinese state media has hinted that Liu Han's alleged gang operated with political connections to central government officials.