China’s vice kingpin given life sentence two years after facing prostitution, bribery charges

Liang Yaohui, former owner of five-star hotel at centre of southern city’s sex trade, also has all assets frozen

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 August, 2017, 8:38pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 August, 2017, 10:35pm

A former Chinese politician and hotel magnate who became a prostitution kingpin has been sentenced to life in prison two years after standing trial, local media reported.

Liang Yaohui was found guilty of organising prostitution, bid-rigging and corporate bribery by the Dongguan City Intermediate People’s Court, news portal Thepaper.cn reported on Tuesday. His lawyer, who was not named, was quoted as saying that the sentence was announced on Friday though a written verdict was not made available until Tuesday.

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Liang was tried in 2015 alongside 46 of his associates following a major crackdown on vice in Dongguan, a major manufacturing base in southern China’s Guangdong province. He was then the owner of the five-star Crown Prince Hotel, which was regarded as a focal point for the city’s prostitution industry.

As well as handing down the life term, the court ordered the seizure of all of Liang’s properties, the report said.

Three of his associates – who were shareholders in the Crown Prince – were also handed life sentences, while the remaining 43 defendants were given prison terms of at least 16 months for their roles in organising prostitution and destroying evidence.

The vice trade in Dongguan began to gain momentum in the mid-1990s and coincided with the manufacturing boom in the Pearl River Delta, which attracted thousands of Taiwanese and Hong Kong businessmen to the city. With its 99 massage rooms and more than 100 resident sex workers, the Crown Prince, which opened in 1995, soon became its beating heart. By 2013 its turnover had grown to 49 million yuan (US$7.3 million) and Liang was one of China’s richest men.

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Things began to go wrong for Liang in early 2014 when Guangdong party boss Hu Chunhua ordered a months-long campaign which saw the closure of the Crown Prince and thousands of other venues with links to vice. By the end of the crackdown, Dongguan’s illicit sex industry had been all but wiped out.

The investigations that followed saw at least 36 city police officials – including Yan Xiaokang, the city’s former deputy mayor and head of its public security bureau – suspended or removed from office on suspicion of having protected businesses involved in prostitution.

The campaign also led to the closure of about 1,200 websites and more than a million public instant messaging accounts were closed for promoting sex services online.

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With 46 co-defendants, Liang’s trial in 2015 was a lengthy and complicated procedure. Among the charges filed were more than 100,000 counts of prostitution, some involving minors.

The announcement of Liang’s sentence came three months after Liu Zhigeng, the former Dongguan party boss and ex-deputy governor of Guangdong, was sentenced to life imprisonment for receiving bribes exceeding 98 million yuan.

Under Chinese law those found guilty of organising large-scale prostitution activities can face the death penalty and confiscation of all their assets.