Nine people are under arrest on suspicion of trafficking dozens of mentally disabled peasants from Sichuan and murdering them in coal mines for profit. The suspects claimed to be relatives of the victims and demanded compensation from mine owners. Ye Jianhua, head of Leibo county's Public Security Bureau, said the nine were arrested in connection with 17 murders in nine provinces since 2007, Xinhua reported. Police from all nine provinces were investigating the cases after the Ministry of Public Security ordered a thorough investigation into reports of mentally disabled people being murdered in mines. The county's police rescued more than 40 mentally disabled villagers from a hill behind the police bureau in July 2008 and another seven this year. Police said they were about to be sent to their deaths in the mines. Sichuan police said they arrested a suspect in May for murdering a mentally ill man in an iron mine in Fujian . In Liaoning province alone, at least five people were murdered in similar scams. Police did not make the scandal public until November when three suspects extorted 200,000 yuan (HK$227,000) compensation from a miner in Hubei's Daye city. Mines in the mainland are notorious for their poor safety standards. Mine owners can be easy targets for blackmail as many fear safety issues could be exposed.