A growing wealth gap, an ageing population and the lack of a social safety net could be driving crime in some of China's poorest areas. Hong Kong has been hit by a spate of high-profile robberies and kidnapping cases, and many of the suspects hailed from Wengan county in Guizhou, one of China's poorest provinces and home to "Guizhou gangs". A South China Morning Post investigation in Wengan found that beneath an apparent economic boom, the county is grappling with social problems. Left-behind children, elderly people without support and a mentality of searching for quick, easy money are commonplace. Wu Shiwei, a researcher at Guizhou University of Finance and Economics, highlighted in a research paper published in May how the lack of a social safety net in rural areas, the wealth gap and urbanisation combined to drive up crime rates in local counties. Wu said data collected between 1986 to 2012 showed "a definite link" between crime rates and economic growth: "The greater the rural-urban divide, the higher the crime rates." A conversation with the ailing mother of a mainland suspect arrested in Hong Kong over the burglary of a top banker's luxury home revealed she had been unaware of her son's whereabouts until the Post told her. Feng Kaiqin, mother of Liu Huaiqilin, who is accused of breaking into the residence of HSBC's Asia-Pacific chief executive Peter Wong Tung-shun at The Peak with three other men on October 11, had been distraught waiting for her son's return to Guizhou after he went missing some weeks ago. The 45-year-old woman, diagnosed with liver cancer a few months ago, said she was shocked over her son's arrest. She said Liu, a 24-year-old divorcee who made a living as a street vendor, was very upset when he learnt of his mother's illness. About a month ago, he told her he would be "going out for a few days with friends" and asked the ailing mother to take care of his 16-month-old son. "Since then I lost track of him and was very worried because he didn't have any money," she said. Liu appeared in Eastern Court last month and was charged with one count of theft and one count of staying in Hong Kong without the authority of the immigration director. He did not enter a plea and was remanded in custody. He was arrested for allegedly breaking into Wong's home with three other men still at large and stealing jewellery worth HK$2.45 million. His case has come to typify the social problems plaguing China's poor western provinces. The high-profile burglary case followed arrests in connection with the kidnapping of Bossini heiress Queenie Rosita Law in May this year. Seven suspects came from Wengan. However, a police official in Wengan dismissed a suggestion that gangs were a problem and that Hong Kong had become their target.