Sichuan mining tycoon's fall from philanthropist to 'triad boss'

Revelations about Sichuan mining magnate Liu Han's alleged crimes have shaken those who knew him as a great philanthropist

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 February, 2014, 4:48am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 February, 2014, 4:48am

Before the state media exposed his alleged role in a mafia-style gang involved in at least nine deaths on Thursday night, Sichuan mining tycoon Liu Han was better known as the "most generous philanthropist" behind the province's "safest primary school" that survived a devastating 2008 earthquake.

Liu, 48, is the former chairman of privately owned conglomerate Sichuan Hanlong. The tycoon, who holds a Hong Kong ID, was ranked 148th in Forbes' 2012 list of China's richest men, with an estimated fortune of US$855 million.

Despite Liu's preference for staying away from media attention, a school that he helped build near the site of a major earthquake in Sichuan propelled him into the limelight in 2008.

Liuhan Hope Primary School, built in 1999 and situated less than eight kilometres from Beichuan, the epicentre of the quake, was one of few schools to emerge from the disaster unscathed. All its pupils survived.

Shortly after the Sichuan quake, the billionaire donated more than 50 million yuan to charity groups for disaster relief. The move propelled him to greater prominence and, in 2009, he was ranked 16th in the Shanghai-based Hurun Report's China Philanthropy List.

But it did not take long for Liu to fall from grace. Last March, as his company was engaged in a US$1.4 billion deal to acquire Australian mining firm Sundance Resources, the tycoon was placed under house arrest by Beijing police for harbouring his brother, a murder suspect on the run.

Liu's younger brother Liu Wei , 44, also known as Liu Yong , is accused of being behind a 2009 street killing in downtown Guanghan , mainland media reported. Hubei police were tasked to look into the case, and last July, Liu Han was detained on suspicion of sheltering suspects, illegal possession of firearms and intentional injury.

On Thursday night, the man once known as one of country's most generous philanthropists was accused of being one of its biggest triad ringleaders as Xinhua announced that Liu was the alleged gang leader of 35 suspects charged for various criminal activities.

Liu himself now faces 15 charges, including murder, financial crimes, running casinos, illegally selling firearms and bribing government officials. If found guilty, he could be sentenced to death.

Police seized three hand grenades, more than 20 guns and over 600 bullets from the gang's weapons cache in their investigations, the Xinhua article said.

The detailed report on Liu's alleged crimes was widely circulated online. By yesterday, "Sichuan billionaire Liu Han charged" had become one of the top searches on Sina Weibo.

Additional reporting by Amy Li