Killer in Canada who dismembered rich relative gets 10-year sentence

Zhao Li shot dead his bullying, philandering relative outside the victim's US$6 million hillside mansion.
Zhao Li shot dead his bullying, philandering relative outside the victim's US$6 million hillside mansion.PHOTO: NYTIMES

MONTREAL (NYTIMES) - It was a quiet Saturday in 2015 in one of Vancouver's wealthiest enclaves, when a Chinese immigrant told police he snapped.

He shot dead his bullying, philandering relative outside the victim's US$6 million (S$8.16 million) hillside mansion. Then he chopped the body into 108 pieces.

On Monday (Oct 5), Judge Terence Schultes of the Supreme Court of British Columbia sentenced Zhao Li, now 60, to 10 years and six months in prison after his conviction for manslaughter and interfering with human remains.

In January, the judge surprised Canadian legal experts when he ruled that Zhao was not guilty of murder. Under Canadian law, he could have been sentenced to life in prison for manslaughter.

Zhao had been in custody for more than five years after killing Mr Yuan Gang, his business partner and a family member.

With each day in custody counting as 1.5 days toward his sentence, Zhao has two years, four months and eight days left to serve, the judge said.

Mr Chris Johnson, a lawyer who represented the estate of Mr Yuan, called the lurid case, which generated headlines in Canada and China, a cautionary tale about revenge and the corruptibility of money.

"This offence was particularly shocking to Canadians because of the brazen nature of the crime, in broad daylight in one of Vancouver's wealthiest neighbourhoods," he said.

"The method of the killing was brutal."


Judge Schultes on Monday noted the violence of the crime, and observed that the dismemberment of the body was "unquestionably bizarre", adding that its "clinical dispassion" and "coldness" were "very morally blameworthy".

He said his sentence was predicated on Zhao's not having a criminal record and the remorse he had shown.

When announcing the verdict in January, the judge said that while the crime was gruesome, he had been left with reasonable doubt over whether Zhao intended to kill Mr Yuan. Intent to kill is the prerequisite for a murder verdict in Canada.

The trial, which took place in front of a judge rather than a jury, as agreed to by both the defence and the prosecution, shined a spotlight on how Vancouver has become host to rich foreigners, who use it as a sanctuary for cash and kin.

In the case of Mr Yuan, he had been ensnared in a corruption scandal in China before gaining permanent residency in Canada.

The case presented two contrasting narratives.

In the first, Zhao, whose wife was Mr Yuan's cousin, was characterised by the defence as a meek and law-abiding man who exploded when Mr Yuan asked to marry his daughter.

But prosecutors portrayed Zhao as a vengeful and violent aggressor. He cut up the body with an electric hand saw and concealed the right arm in a meat freezer in the garage at the mansion.

Apart from its grisly nature, the case riveted Canadians because of the lavish lifestyle of the victim.

At the mansion where he was shot, in a rarefied mountainside neighbourhood, he had installed a stuffed black panther posing on a rock in its grand entrance. He also bought a stately 10-bedroom Tudor revival home, valued at about US$13 million, in another exclusive area.

Mr Yuan owned a Bentley and a Rolls-Royce, as well as a private island and a yacht. He bought 48 parcels of land in Saskatchewan, valued at about US$6 million, which Zhao managed.

The case also attracted attention because of its colourful cast of characters.

Among them was Zhao's daughter, Ms Florence Zhao, a fashion designer known as "Flo-Z", who appeared in a popular reality show on YouTube, Ultra Rich Asian Girls, which showcased Vancouver's wealthy second-generation Chinese.

During the sentencing, Judge Schultes recalled that Zhao's father was imprisoned by the Chinese government during the Cultural Revolution, consigning the son to a childhood of hardship and poverty.

The judge also noted that Zhao had disapproved of Mr Yuan's mistreatment of his girlfriends - estimated at as many as 100 - according to testimony in a separate civil case.

On May 2, 2015, Mr Yuan told Zhao that he wanted to marry Florence, the court heard.

Zhao became irate. He called Mr Yuan "worse than a pig or a dog" and then shot him twice with a licensed rifle after, he said, Mr Yuan tried to harm him with a hammer.

Then he began to chop up the body, and wash away evidence of blood from the crime scene.

In the aftermath of the killing, seven women from China claimed that their children had been fathered by Mr Yuan and deserved part of his US$21 million estate.

A Canadian judge ruled that five were entitled to split Mr Yuan's possessions.

Mr Johnson said Mr Yuan's family was disappointed in the Canadian justice system, believing that Zhao had "gotten away with murder".