In 2018 Chinese President Xi Jinping launched a dahei or ‘strike black’ campaign against gangs and organised crime.
It was the natural corollary to his long-running anti-corruption campaign and he ordered his investigators in Beijing to go out and destroy the ‘protective umbrellas’ – or local government officials who turn a blind eye to such triad activity.
Two years on and investigators have stumbled across a case that has the whole country talking. It involves a man named Sun Xiaoguo from Kunming in the southwestern province of Yunnan.
Sun, who was known by the local epithet of the Tyrant of Kunming, was charged in court for a series of rapes and attacks against women and minors in 1998. It was his second conviction and he was sentenced to death.
So it came as a surprise when Sun’s name then cropped up on a list of gangsters arrested as part of the latest crackdown in April. It meant Sun was free and, it transpired, he had been at large for some time.
The only way he could have avoided execution – the public concluded – was with the help of corrupt local officials.
In reaction to widespread anger at the revelations, the central government dispatched another high- level investigative team to the scene – this time headed by the deputy director of the National Office Against Organised Crime.
The People’s Daily said the case showed that the fight against criminal gangs had entered the “hard bones” phase and that the key to destroying these networks is “breaking the money and breaking the blood” – meaning severing the personal connections between criminals and corrupt law enforcement.
In Sun’s case it wasn’t immediately obvious how he had managed to get his sentence quietly commuted. The press reports suggest that Sun’s parents divorced when he was young and he was raised by his mother. She was a low-level police officer who remarried an army officer when Sun was 17. Because these connections seemed pretty low-level, netizens soon began to speculate that Sun was actually the illegitimate child of a high-ranking official – even going as far as to name the person they thought might be his father.
Investigators soon quashed that line of enquiry, saying Sun had no “strong family background”. Instead the investigation is now focusing on Sun’s mother and his step-father, who became head of the Wuhua district Public Security Bureau in Kunming in 1996.
Sun’s mother seems to have worked tirelessly to keep her son out of prison and then to reduce his sentences. In 1993, after he was sentenced to three years in jail for rape, she campaigned to get him released on medical grounds. She was then sentenced to four years herself for her efforts to cover up his earlier indiscretions. But when he was convicted again she set about getting his sentence reduced once more – this time by procuring a design for a manhole cover that was difficult to steal, and then filing for a patent in her son’s name.
Chinese law allows for sentences to be reduced in cases where a prisoner has invented something of use to society (see WiC268).
By 2010 Sun junior was apparently out of jail and running several businesses under the name of Li Linchen. By 2013 he had opened M2 – Kunming’s biggest nightclub. He didn’t seem too bothered about keeping a low-profile either: his image even appeared on the club’s social media accounts.
Today Sun is back under arrest, as are his mother, step-father and several gang members. Investigators say the deputy director of the prison service in Kunming and several judges have also been detained.
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