China miners accused of multiple murders in extortion scam

BEIJING (AFP) - Chinese prosecutors have charged 74 people in connection with a series of grisly murders aimed at extorting compensation from coal mining firms, state media said on Wednesday (June 8).

The workers are accused of a killing spree that left 17 dead in six regions across the country, the Global Times said, with the deaths made to look like work accidents.

The slaughter was all part of a complicated con by participants who posed as the victims' family, and then offered mine-owners their silence in exchange for a big pay day, the paper said.

"Once paid, they would quietly move on... since they knew how easy it was to con and extort money out of coal mine owners, they would kill again and again," the paper reported.

The newspaper cited lawyers as saying that such murders have been common in China's vast mining sector in the past decade.

The country is the world's largest producer of coal and hundreds die each year in accident-prone mines, though the number of deaths has fallen in recent years.

"There have been loads of cases like this in Chinese coal mines dating back 20 years," Sun Yong, a lawyer from Beijing's Shouxin Law Firm told the Global Times.

"Most of these people haven't been caught and their crimes are still hidden," he added.

Sun said the number of such scams rose after 2011, when an amended regulation almost doubled compensation for worker deaths.

"With the compensation now reaching 600,000 yuan (S$124,000), people... take greater risks to extort money," Sun said.

The alleged murders are eerily similar to those depicted in the 2003 Chinese film "Blind Shaft", about two con artists who pose as relatives of mine workers they murder for compensation money.

The film won the Silver Bear award at the Berlin International Film Festival.

The workers were indicted in Bayannur, part of the North China's Inner Mongolia region, it said. They will stand trial, the paper said.

Last year three miners were sentenced to death for brutally murdering their co-workers using stones, hammers and shovels, among other tools, before extracting compensation money, state-media said.