Qingdao will begin the trials of officials who sought to protect a gang of 200 members at the end of March, after a local court sentenced the head of the mafia group to death Tuesday.
Nie Lei, 45, received the death penalty at the Qingdao Intermediate People's Court for 10 charges, according to a press release.
Nie began to operate real estate companies and entertainment venues in Qingdao in 1995. He gradually formed an organized crime group with a layered hierarchy and rigorous structure, according to the court.
Over the years, Nie expand his business into prostitution and underground gambling. The gang was being investigated for over 40 crimes when it was raided in 2010. They were also found to be in illegal possession of 13 guns.
The case, with 144 defendants, began trial on December 20.
Among the 32 core gang members who stood trial Tuesday, another two were sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve and life imprisonment respectively. Except for one who escaped criminal punishment, the rest were all sentenced to prison sentences ranging from two to 20 years.
"There were some questions on how Nie should have been sentenced," Wang Xiren, a lawyer from Qingdao who represents one core gang member, told the Global Times.
The death sentence was made without consideration of evidence provided by Nie, Wang said, adding that Nie had said he will lodge appeal to higher court.
Apart from the fallen mastermind, the public also focused on the fate of local officials who were accused of helping Nie's clique.
Zou Chuanning, president of the intermediate court, said Monday that the difficulty of this case lies in many officials having acted to shield Nie and destroy evidence, the Qilu Evening News reported.
A total of 14 police officers were involved, including Yu Guoming, chief of the police branch in Qingdao's Shibei district, and Feng Xinyue, head of the police branch in Licang district.
Guo Jiasen, procurator-general of the People's Procuratorate of Shandong, said on February 21 when delivering a work report at the National People's Congress (NPC) session that some of the officers had helped the criminals escape and taken part in the gang's nefarious activities.
Guo revealed that the number of local officials involved had increased to over 30 as the investigation continued, according to the Qilu Evening News.
The Qingdao Intermediate People's Court told the Global Times that the officials will be dealt with in separate trials, expected to take place before the end of this month in five local courts.
The government has stepped up efforts in cracking down on organized crime, and in many cases, local officials were found offering protection to gangs.
At least four criminal gangs were raided in Xiangtan, Hunan Province last year. Four high-level police officers were found to have abetted their illegal activities.
In July 2010, Wen Qiang, the former head of the judiciary department of Chongqing and also an ex-deputy police chief of the city, was executed for charges including rape, bribery, and protecting an underground criminal gang.
Li Yongzhong, a Beijing-based anti-corruption expert, told the Global Times that such a phenomenon resulted from the concentration of power in some areas, where inappropriate government structures and a lack of monitoring and control led to the abuse of power.
"Such problems have severely damaged the credibility of local governments because the connection broke the bottom line of social justice, which will have severe consequences," Li said.
He added that authorities should have zero tolerance for organized crime, and the officials involved should be punished severely.
"But the most important thing is to improve the transparency of the official appointment process, as well as the overall work of local governments, so as to allow better monitoring by the public," Li stressed.
Huang Qifan, mayor of Chongqing, said during the annual session of the NPC that crackdowns on organized criminal gangs have to integrate with the fight against officials acting as shields and corruption.
Cao Jianming, procurator-general of the Supreme People's Procuratorate, said at the annual NPC session that procuratorates at all levels will strengthen the investigation and prevention of crimes committed by officials.