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China to try former mining magnate and his gang next week

BEIJING (Reuters) - The trial of a Chinese former mining magnate and the "mafia-style" gang he ran will begin in central China next week on charges including murder, state news agency Xinhua reported on Wednesday.

Liu Han, the former chairman of Hanlong Mining, which attempted to take over Australia's Sundance Resources Ltd, led his gang on a crime spree for more than a decade, focused on China's southwestern province of Sichuan, state media have said previously.

The probe into Liu is one of the highest-profile cases against a private businessman since President Xi Jinping took power last year, vowing to battle corruption.

All 36 members of the gang will stand trial in a court in Hubei province on Monday, Xinhua said.

"They are suspected of organising, leading and participating in the gang as well as intentional homicide," the report cited a court statement as saying.

"The gang, allegedly led by Liu Han and (his brother) Liu Wei, is the largest mafia-style criminal group to be tried in recent years in China."

The ruling Communist Party's official People's Daily said last month that the government would also be going after the officials who protected the gang.

Sichuan, where Liu's company, Hanlong Mining, is based, has been a focus of Xi's crackdown, mostly because it was a power base for Zhou Yongkang, the retired former domestic security tsar now being probed over graft, sources have told Reuters.

Official media have not directly linked the case with Zhou, but have alluded to possible ties, as Liu's rise coincided with Zhou's time as Sichuan's Communist Party boss.

The party has yet to make an announcement about Zhou's case. Sources have told Reuters he is effectively under house arrest.

Several of Zhou's men have been felled, including Jiang Jiemin, briefly top regulator of state-owned enterprises, and former Vice Minister of Public Security Li Dongsheng.

Reuters could not reach Hanlong for comment. It was also not possible to reach Liu, ranked as China's 230th richest person by the Shanghai-based Hurun 2012 Report, for comment.

Hanlong has a majority stake in Australian-listed iron ore miner Moly Mines and remains the biggest shareholder of Sundance Resources, although its proposed A$1.4-billion ($1.27 billion) takeover of Africa-focused Sundance was called off last April after Hanlong missed funding deadlines.

Liu founded Hanlong Group, a conglomerate in sectors from solar energy to real estate and infrastructure, in 1997.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Alison Williams)

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