BEIJING (AFP) - A Chinese mining tycoon who once mounted a billion-dollar bid for an Australian company went on trial for murder with 35 other alleged gang members on Monday, state media reported.
Liu Han, his brother Liu Wei and 34 others faced the charges at a court in Xianning, in the central province of Hubei, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
The gang, based in Sichuan province in the southwest, are the biggest such "mafia-style" group to face a courtroom in recent years, Xinhua said.
Liu Han led private company Hanlong group, a diversified firm with interests ranging from tourism to minerals and assets of more than 20 billion yuan (S$4 billion), its website says.
Hanlong launched a takeover bid of more than US$1 billion (S$1.3 billion) for listed Australian iron ore company Sundance Resources in 2011 but the deal collapsed last year after the firm failed to follow through. Chinese media reports said at the time that Liu Han had been detained.
"His business empire was backed by menace," Xinhua said in a lengthy report about the case in February.
It said that Liu and his gang "have accumulated enormous wealth in property, mining, and electricity" via illegal means, adding his "criminal empire" had assets of 40 billion yuan.
Sichuan is one of the powerbases of Zhou Yongkang, China's former hugely powerful security chief, who is at the centre of rumours about a corruption investigation.
State media have hinted that Liu Han's gang had political connections to central government officials.
The influential Caixin magazine has reported that Liu Han once had dealings with a businessman believed to be Zhou Yongkang's son.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has launched a much-publicised drive to crack down on corruption, vowing to take on both senior "tigers" and low-level "flies".