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Chinese tycoon, 44, is sentenced to death for forming a criminal syndicate

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A former tycoon in China who built a £1 billion empire through sheer violence and terror has been sentenced to death with reprieve. 

Ex-paramilitary Chen Hongzhi amassed astonishing fortune in just over a decade by expanding his coal mine business through robbing, bribing and even killing, according to a Chinese court.

In order to satisfy his greed, the 44-year-old from the province of Shanxi formed and led a criminal syndicate with more than 70 triad gangsters to threaten, kidnap and beat whomever stood in his way. 

Chinese triad leader Chen Hongzhi (pictured) was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve by the Intermediate People's Court of Changzhi in Shanxi Province on Wednesday

Chinese triad leader Chen Hongzhi (pictured) was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve by the Intermediate People’s Court of Changzhi in Shanxi Province on Wednesday

The 44-year-old built a major coal-mining group in the space of 10 years through robbing, bribing and even killing, according to a Chinese court. He led a 70-strong criminal syndicate

The 44-year-old built a major coal-mining group in the space of 10 years through robbing, bribing and even killing, according to a Chinese court. He led a 70-strong criminal syndicate

Local officials were forced to take orders from the merciless man – or risk being attacked – and he even ordered the course of a river to be altered and a dam to be built near his home to bring him better fengshui, reported state broadcaster CCTV.

When he was caught during a cross-city police raid last year, he was found to have countless bundles of cash and more than 340 properties across the country. 

Mr Chen’s most notorious acts included publicly slapping the face of a Communist party official for failing to complete a ‘task’ he had given him, said CCTV. 

He was also said to have smashed the family cemetery of another party official after the said official had refused to satisfy one of his demands. 

The man was equally ruthless to his staff and even family members. He reportedly demanded all of his employees, including his uncle, be on call 24/7 and scolded them at will. 

One entrepreneur, who had dealt with Mr Chen, told China News Weekly that Mr Chen once beat his wife so badly she had to be hospitalised.

The screenshot from Chinese state broadcaster CCTV shows Mr Chen being arrested last July in Beijing. The Chinese authority received a tip-off from a local official he had terrorised

The screenshot from Chinese state broadcaster CCTV shows Mr Chen being arrested last July in Beijing. The Chinese authority received a tip-off from a local official he had terrorised

According to China News Weekly, Mr Chen was born in the county of Liulin in Shanxi to an impoverished family. His father was a black smith. 

He never liked study when he was little and joined the country’s paramilitary forces after reaching adulthood.

He retired from the forces in 1998 and made his first fortune after setting up a company to sell construction materials at the age of 24.

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One year later, he tapped into the coal-mining industry, which Shanxi is famous for, and that was when he turned to violence for business interests.

Through bribing and coercing, Mr Chen planted his former classmates, relatives and friends on critical positions in all governmental functions, and therefore was able to occupy other people’s coal mines and collect the natural resource however he wished. 

His company, Lingzhi Group, grew to be so powerful it ran, among others, four coal mines, four refining factories, a shopping mall, a five-star hotel and even a local secondary school.

Mr Chen was born in the county of Liulin (pictured) in Shanxi to an impoverished family

Mr Chen was born in the county of Liulin (pictured) in Shanxi to an impoverished family

During around 10 years of underground operation, his criminal organisation killed one person, injured eight people and illegally detained more than 30 people, the court said.

Mr Chen was arrested in July last year after the Chinese authority received a tip-off from a local official he had terrorised.

And on Wednesday, the ex-magnate was handed the capital punishment with a two-year reprieve by the Intermediate People’s Court of Changzhi in Shanxi Province.

The court found him guilty of more than 10 crimes, including organising and leading underground organisations, illegal mining, coercive business transaction, intentional assault, kidnapping, robbery, fraud, tampering with evidence, etc. 

Mr Chen and more than 70 of his gangster subordinates were sentenced in a trial yesterday

Mr Chen and more than 70 of his gangster subordinates were sentenced in a trial yesterday

His second-in-command, Gao Haiping, was sentenced to life imprisonment, and 72 other members in his gang were jailed from 14 months to 20 years.   

Death sentence with a reprieve is a type of death sentence under the Chinese Criminal Law. The convicted individual is given a two-year reprieve from the execution. At the end of the two-year term, the sentence will be reduced to life imprisonment if the individual does not commit further crimes within the period. 

The court is yet to announce if Mr Chen will appeal against the decision. 

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