A Hong Kong drug lord and four of his SAR associates were sentenced to death yesterday by a mainland court for the production and smuggling of the world's largest haul of 'ice'. The ruling on Chong Cho-shing and his gang is the highest number of death sentences passed on Hong Kong residents in a single case. Three Hong Kong men were executed in the notorious 'Big Spender' case in 1998. Shenzhen Intermediate People's Court ruled that Chong, 40, was the leader of a narcotics ring that produced and trafficked more than 31 tonnes of ice. The four other Hong Kong men sentenced to death were Lam Hung-kit, 48, Cheng Shek-chuen, 48, Chong Chun-man, 41, and Hui Chi-keung, 40. Hong Kong resident Tsang Wan-kwai, 36, the gang's alleged No 2, was given a death sentence suspended for two years for testifying against Chong Cho-shing. The court also sentenced two other Hong Kong men - Wong Leung-wai, 30, and Wong Hung-sun, 44 - to life imprisonment. Of the nine SAR residents brought to trial, only Tsang Yun-siu, 38, was acquitted. Chong Cho-shing and Tsang Wan-kwai were each convicted of manufacturing and smuggling drugs, Wong Hung-sun of smuggling drugs and the rest of manufacturing drugs. Six mainlanders associated with Chong were also convicted and sentenced. Huang Yuancheng, Wan Songjiang and Zhen Rongchan were sentenced to death; Wan Zhengqian and Zhong Zhiqian were given the death penalty suspended for two years; and Wan Guiliang was sentenced to life imprisonment. The gang produced 31.1 tonnes of ice between 1995 and 2000 in factories they set up in Dongguan and Huizhou in Guangdong province, Wuhan in Hubei province, and Nanning in the Guangxi autonomous region, the court heard. A total of 17 tonnes of the drug with a market value of 5.6 billion yuan (HK$5.3 billion) was seized by police in Shenzhen last year. That amount alone exceeded the worldwide total seizures of the drug in 1999. The rest of the ice was discovered elsewhere in Guangdong and some in Hong Kong, the court heard. Chong and his gang tried to smuggle the drugs to overseas markets in fishing boats. They would usually smuggle the ice into the Philippines and then on to Europe and North America, Judge Shi Zhenwen was told. 'The facts against the accused were clear and were supported with ample evidence. But there is not enough evidence to prove they all belonged to one crime syndicate . . . They were motivated by profit to group together to produce and smuggle drugs,' the verdict read. Tsang was treated more leniently after providing information to mainland police which led to arrests of gang members. Property owned by the convicts and the money they accrued have been confiscated. They have 10 days to lodge an appeal to Guangdong Provincial Higher People's Court. Huang Kenru, defending Chong Cho-shing, said the conviction was unfair. However, he said he had not yet received an indication from his client or the family about an appeal. Chong's sister, Chong Cho-mui, said outside court yesterday: 'He didn't do it. That's what we believe. We also believed in the mainland legal system. So we never were high-profile and never talked to [the media] . . . he's been picked as the scapegoat.' She held up her brother's bank account statements as evidence that he was financially clean. In December 1998, SAR residents 'Big Spender' Cheung Tze-keung and his associates Chin Hon-sau and Chan Chi-hou were executed in Guangdong for crimes on the mainland and in Hong Kong.