Former mining tycoon goes on trial over mafia gang in China

Former mining tycoon goes on trial over mafia gang in China

Photo posted Monday by @cctvnews, the English news channel of China Central Television (CCTV).

Judges on Monday began hearing arguments in the closely watched murder and corruption trial of Liu Han, a powerful mining tycoon from western China accused of killing at least nine people and bullying villagers into surrendering their land to build his fortune.

Liu, the former chairman of unlisted Sichuan Hanlong Group and once among the richest people in China, is facing trial in central Hubei province, along with his younger brother, Liu Wei, and other members of his "mafia-style" gang, state news agency Xinhua reports.

His company, a diversified firm with interests ranging from tourism to minerals and assets of more than $3.2 billion, pursued a number of international mining deals.  A few of them have already fizzled, including the $5 billion Mbalam iron ore project straddling Cameroon and Congo-Brazzaville in Central Africa with Australia's Sundance Resources (ASX:SDL), a deal to develop an iron ore and copper-molybdenum mine with Moly Mines (ASX:MOL) in the Pilbara and another molybdenum project with US-based General Moly (NYSE:GMO), of which it owned 25%.

Sundance has indicated that Hanlong's $1.4 billion takeover offer is unlikely to come to fruition, General Moly's legal counsel has suspended work on a $665 million loan from the Chinese firm and Moly Mines says it is still investigating the consequences of Liu's situation on its dealings with Hanlong and his seat on the Moly Mines board.

Analysts believe Liu may have found himself on the wrong side of China’s new leadership under Xi Jinping, who have focused their energy on Sichuan in search of another big scalp in their anti-corruption drive.

Chinese state media said that the Sichuan-based gang had had strong political ties that played a role in Liu Han's appointment as a delegate in Sichuan's political advisory body.

In recent months, several top officials from Sichuan province have come under scrutiny.

The trial is expected to continue for days or even weeks as the 36 defendants are being tried in five courtrooms.