HK businessman tortured in S African robbery returns home for treatment

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 December, 2006, 12:00am

A Hong Kong businessman who was beaten and burned with boiling water and oil by a gang raiding his factory near Johannesburg, South Africa, has returned home for treatment of his injuries.

Zhao Limin and three of his employees, Michael Wang, Peter Hou and Lily Huang, were held up earlier this month by robbers.

The gang believed that Mr Zhao held large sums of cash at his plastics factory in Germiston, an industrial city east of Johannesburg.

'His injuries were severe, so Mr Zhao has returned to Hong Kong where he is recovering in hospital,' says Xu Defu, of the Chinese consulate in Johannesburg. The employees are believed to be in South Africa. They were also beaten and had boiling water poured on them.

The attack took place on December 10 when seven men armed with guns and knives stormed into Mr Zhao's factory in the evening. Mr Zhao, his three compatriots and four local workers were on the premises.

When Mr Zhao failed to come up with the money they thought he had, the robbers pressed a hot steam iron against his face and poured boiling water over his genitals and boiling oil on his back during two hours of torment. They eventually left with 8,000 rand (HK$8,800) - all that Mr Zhao had.

'They thought we had more money but we did not,' Mr Zhao told The Star in Johannesburg.

Crime has become a serious problem in South Africa, which has 25 per cent unemployment, according to official figures. Anyone perceived as wealthy is a target, and attacks on businessmen are common. More than 18,000 people were murdered last year, police say, many of them robbery victims.

A lack of police manpower and response vehicles means that an emergency call may go unanswered for hours, if at all. Mr Zhao called the police when he spotted the attackers arriving at his premises at 7pm, but they arrived hours later, after the men had left.

Fewer than 20,000 Chinese people lived in South Africa in 1998, when it severed its apartheid-era relationship with Taiwan to exchange diplomats with Beijing. Today, the number is close to 300,000.

Last year, eight Chinese nationals were killed in more than 40 attacks on the Chinese community. It suffered its bloodiest period in February this year when armed robbers killed three businessmen in a 36-hour period. South African diplomats in Beijing have been summoned to the Chinese Foreign Ministry for talks and asked to step up protection for expatriates.

'We don't think criminals are particularly attacking Chinese people,' said Mr Xu.

'Chinese people are being attacked just like anyone else. So, we appeal to our people to be careful and vigilant.'