Couple arrested in slaves scandal

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A couple accused of running an unlicensed shelter for more than 130 mentally-disabled people and selling them into slavery have been arrested, according to local authorities.

Zeng Lingquan, 46, and his wife Li Shuqiong, 45, natives of Quxian County in southwestern Sichuan Province, were arrested last Thursday, Wang Yunhui, a spokesman for the People's Procuratorate of Quxian County said.

The pair are said to have gained some 3 million yuan (US$455,028) by selling groups of mentally-retarded people to work in factories, quarries, kilns and mines across China since 1993.

Most workers were found to have received no pay, inadequate food and dire living conditions, following an earlier media report that revealed eight mentally-retarded workers from the shelter had been working in appalling conditions in a stone quarry for two years in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in the northwest.

A police investigation alleged that the couple began hiring homeless beggars to help them with farm work, a contravention of the law as they hadn't gone through any legal adoption procedure.

Zeng set up an illegal shelter in a bid to gather more laborers in 1998, according to the Procuratorate.

Zeng signed contracts with employers and provided training for the workers before delivering them. The employers sent the workers' salaries to Zeng's bank account.

The procuratorate is still trying to collect more evidence about the labor scandal. So far, seven officials in Quxian County have been sacked or warned for their responsibility in the case.

The cases emerged nearly four years after a major scandal in which more than 20 workers were found killed in coal mines in southeast and northeast China.

Most workers had been lured to the mines by men who killed them for compensation from mine bosses, Legal Daily reported.

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