By Ben Blanchard
BEIJING, Feb 20 (Reuters) - China unveiled dramatic details of charges against a former mining magnate on Thursday, accusing him of crimes ranging from murder to gun-running and extortion as part of a “mafia-style” gang he led.
In an announcement carried by the official Xinhua news agency, prosecutors in central China said they had laid charges against the former chairman of Hanlong Mining, which had tried to take over Australia’s Sundance Resources Ltd.
Police last year announced the detention of Liu Han and an investigation into his younger brother Liu Yong - also known as Liu Wei - on suspicion of criminal activities.
Prosecutors in the Hubei province said the two Lius set up the gang in 1993, along with 34 others, and it “carried out a vast number of criminal activities”.
The gang was responsible for nine murders, the report said.
“Those charged also came up with myriad ways to draw in and corrupt officials who worked for the state, seeking their protection to consolidate and expand their influence,” Xinhua added.
“Liu Han, Liu Wei and the others formed, led and participated in mafia-style crimes, murder, assault, illegal detention, interference in state functions, affray, extortion, gambling, illegally buying and selling guns, illegal gun ownership ... (and) fraud.”
Reuters could not reach Hanlong for comment. It was also not possible to reach either of the brothers for comment.
The probe into Liu, ranked as the 230th richest person in China by the Shanghai-based Hurun 2012 Report, marks one of the highest-profile cases against a private businessmen since President Xi Jinping took power last year, vowing to crack down on corruption.
The southwestern province of Sichuan, where Hanlong is based, has been a focus of Xi’s crackdown, mostly because it was a power base for Zhou Yongkang, the retired former domestic security tsar now being probed over graft.
The police investigation into the activities of Liu and his associates eventually spanned more than 10 provinces and cities, including the capital, Beijing, Xinhua said.
It is not clear why the charges were laid in Hubei, though some of the crimes are suspected of having been committed there, according to Xinhua.
Police seized thousands of bullets, as well as 20 guns and three hand grenades, Xinhua said, an unusual detail in a country where gun ownership is tightly controlled and gun crime rare.
Xinhua bared details of the brothers’ lavish lifestyle, including the Bentley and Ferrari cars the gang owned, as well the impunity they had for their criminal lifestyles.
“Liu Han’s mafia background in Sichuan was no secret,” Xinhua said, adding that he “joyously accepted” accusations of his criminality.
They were well-connected too. Liu Han was a member of Sichuan province’s government advisory body, and his brother was picked to carry the Olympic torch through Sichuan in 2008, Xinhua said.
State media reported last year that Liu was held for helping his brother evade capture over a 2009 triple murder.
Hanlong holds a majority interest in the Australian-listed iron ore miner Moly Mines and remains Sundance Resources’ biggest shareholder, though its proposed A$1.4 billion ($1.27 billion) takeover of Africa-focused Sundance was called off last April after Hanlong missed funding deadlines.
Uranium explorer Bannerman Resources Ltd ended talks on a A$143 million offer from Hanlong in late 2011 on similar funding hurdles.
Hanlong was also the principal financial backer and future customer of General Moly Inc’s $1.3 billion molybdenum mining project in the United States, in which Hanlong would help arrange a $665 million loan from the China Development Bank. General Moly terminated the sale agreement in August.
Last month, Australia said it was seeking to prosecute a former executive of Hanlong Mining on insider trading charges after he was arrested in Hong Kong, while its former investment director, Calvin Zhu, is serving a prison sentence in Australia for his role in an insider trading syndicate.
Liu Han founded Hanlong Group, a conglomerate spanning solar energy to real estate and infrastructure, in 1997.