China Cracks Down On Organized Crime

A group of defendants faces sentencing for organized crime in Chongqing i

Defendants face sentencing for a variety of charges linked to organized crime, including murder and extortion, during a trial in southwest China's Chongqing municipality on Oct. 21. The government's largest anti-organized crime prosecution in a half-century is currently under way. Already, six people have been sentenced to death. AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption AFP/Getty Images
A group of defendants faces sentencing for organized crime in Chongqing

Defendants face sentencing for a variety of charges linked to organized crime, including murder and extortion, during a trial in southwest China's Chongqing municipality on Oct. 21. The government's largest anti-organized crime prosecution in a half-century is currently under way. Already, six people have been sentenced to death.

AFP/Getty Images

A millionaire businessman who was also a local legislator appeared in court Monday in southwest China, accused of heading a criminal syndicate. The trial is part of one of the biggest government prosecutions of organized crime in China in the past half-century.

So far, six people have been sentenced to death, and more than 1,500 have been arrested.

Local TV in Chongqing broadcast images from the courthouse Monday of Li Qiang, the alleged crime boss, who appeared with 31 co-defendants. He was charged with nine offenses, including running a criminal enterprise, bribing officials and organizing a strike by Chongqing taxi drivers last November.

Outside the courthouse, not far from the banks of the Yangtze River, crowds gathered in the fog and drizzle to talk about Li.

Zhou Mengli, who used to work as a bus ticket seller, says Li was known as a capable entrepreneur when he opened his first transportation company in the mid-1990s.

"My company's boss knew Li and said he had a bright future. In those days, to get into town from the eastern suburbs, you had to switch buses several times, and it was inconvenient. Li improved things by setting up direct routes," Zhou said.

Li eventually gained control of 100 of Chongqing's bus routes. He built political connections, serving as a government adviser, legislator and head of a local chamber of commerce.

A crowd of protesters outside the courthouse demonstrated against the former head of the municipal justice bureau, Wen Qiang. Wen was arrested in March and accused of protecting mob-run loan sharking, extortion and gambling operations.

One of the protesters, Huang Shangfang, said she complained to Wen several years ago about the illegal imprisonment of her brother, but Wen ignored her.

"I was furious, and I said to the police, 'I think Wen is a mafia boss, because he has suppressed my case.' But now we know he really was a mafia boss," Huang said.

Another protester, Huang Guobi, displayed gory pictures of her dead husband. She said he was hacked to death by thugs protected by Wen. She says it started with a land dispute and ended one evening four years ago with seven men charging into her home.

"My husband said to the intruders: 'It's late, you can bring up the dispute with local officials tomorrow morning.' The attackers came in swinging long knives and iron bars. My husband died before he realized what was happening," she said.

Many Chinese credit Chongqing Communist Party Secretary Bo Xilai for launching the anti-mafia drive. Bo is considered a likely candidate to join the party's ruling inner circle in Beijing in 2012.

But locals outside the courthouse voiced concerns that the prosecution of crime bosses is selective and marred by procedural flaws and politics.

One young man, who only gave his surname, Ma, said his father was wrongly swept up in the anti-crime drive in July, but the family has received no notice from police.

"The anti-crime drive is correct and wins public trust. But we must pay more attention to defendants' rights. From what I understand, many aspects of the case have not been handled in accordance with China's laws," he said.

Noted defense lawyer Zhou Litai is representing an alleged mobster in a separate trial. He complains that the court barred him from reviewing the evidence against his client.

"We were not shown the materials for this case. It's a fact. And it's not just me. The same thing has happened to other defense lawyers. The authorities have offered no explanation for this," he said.

Still, Zhou says he is confident that the court will deliver a just verdict in his client's case.

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