BEIJING (Reuters) - China is expected on Friday to sentence a former mining magnate with suspected ties to the eldest son of retired security tsar Zhou Yongkang on charges of leading a gang on a crime spree spanning more than a decade.
The sentence of Liu Han will be the culmination of one of the highest-profile cases against a private businessman since President Xi Jinping took office last year and began a campaign against pervasive graft.
Xi's crackdown has zeroed in on Sichuan province, where Liu's company - privately held Hanlong Mining - is based. Sichuan was a power base for Zhou, the retired chief of China's vast domestic security apparatus, who stands at the center of the biggest corruption scandal in more than six decades, sources have told Reuters.
Sources have told Reuters that Liu was once a business associate of Zhou Bin, Zhou Yongkang's eldest son.
State media have not explicitly linked Liu's case to Zhou Yongkang, but have said Liu's rise coincided with Zhou's time as Sichuan's Communist Party boss.
Willy Lam, a scholar on Chinese history and politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said there would be extra attention paid to the case because of Liu's links to the Zhou family.
"I think what's happening is that Xi Jinping and (Party anti-corruption tsar) Wang Qishan want to establish a harsh precedent because this is one of the biggest corruption cases since Xi took over," Lam said. "They want to set a precedent to make people afraid, in a sense, to have a deterrence impact on corrupt officials."
Prosecutors in the central province of Hubei said Liu Han and his younger brother Liu Yong, also known as Liu Wei, formed the gang in 1993. With 34 others, it "carried out a vast number of criminal activities", including the murders of nine people, they said.
State media reported that Liu, who was arrested last year, faced charges ranging from murder to gun-running and extortion for crimes carried out in Sichuan.
He denied leading a gang and media reports said he denied killing anyone and denied holding or trading guns illegally.
Hanlong had attempted to take over Australia's Sundance Resources Ltd (SDL.AX), an exporter of iron ore focused on West Africa. The deal was scrapped a year ago after Hanlong missed funding deadlines.
Liu founded Hanlong Group, a conglomerate with interests in sectors from solar energy to real estate and infrastructure, in 1997.
Reporting By Megha Rajagopalan