A Hong Kong triad leader behind a US$1 million plot to shoot media tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying and former Democratic Party chairman Martin Lee Chu-ming has died in a Shenzhen hospital, months after being sentenced to five years in jail.
Other key defendants in the case are waiting for an appeal hearing, to be conducted by judges from the Guangdong provincial court.
Yu Wai-shan, 63, known as 'Fat Yu', died of an undisclosed disease a few weeks after the Shenzhen Intermediate People's Court on December 18 jailed 10 men behind the plot for three to 18 years, a judicial source familiar with the case said.
Yu, a key defendant in the case, was jailed for attempting to cause injury. He was the only defendant absent from the sentencing as he was severely ill.
The source said Yu's death was not suspicious and would have little effect on the pending appeal hearing.
Court clerk Li Mingzhen , who helped administer the trial, confirmed Yu's death. Li said Yu was ill with a liver problem during the trial and died shortly after the sentencing.
The triad boss was suffering from respiratory problems and oedema during a hearing on November 20. He was allowed to attend the hearing without being handcuffed. Yu's lawyer in November applied for his medical parole but was unsuccessful.
Key defendants including Tung Nga-man, 67, known as 'Brother Kam', and Chan Siu-ming, 61, known as 'Uncle Seven', appealed against their convictions and sentences. Tung, another key defendant, was sentenced to six years' imprisonment for attempting to cause injury, while Chan was jailed for 18 years for attempting to cause injury and possession of illegal drugs.
Tung and Yu both denied initial charges of attempted murder and the court later introduced the lesser charge. The prosecution said Tung, Yu and Chan were all triad leaders.
Seven other defendants - including two Hongkongers and two mainlanders - were jailed for three to six years. A date has yet to be set for the appeal hearing, which will be handled by judges from the Guangdong provincial court.
Calls to Yu's former home in Shenzhen went unanswered.
The trial has been conducted behind closed doors. The Shenzhen court heard on July 22 that a Hong Kong businessman living in Taiwan put up a US$1 million bounty to have Lai and Lee shot.
In police evidence seen by the Sunday Morning Post, Tung and Chan named the Hong Kong businessman as the plan's mastermind.
Tung asked Yu to hire someone for the job, and he found Chan. Chan told the court that although the original intention was to murder Lai and Lee, he later decided to merely wound them, as it would be less risky.
The 10 defendants were arrested on the mainland after the detention in Hong Kong of mainlander Huang Nanhua . Huang was stopped at a police roadblock in Mong Kok on August 14 last year and found to be in possession of a pistol, five bullets and personal details of the targets.
In July, the Court of First Instance sentenced him to 16 years in jail for his role in the plot against Lee and Lai. A friend of Huang's, Hong Kong resident Ho Wai-kam was jailed for three years for smuggling a gun and bullets into Hong Kong from Shenzhen.