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UK cops probe Chinese mob link to murder
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UK police officers flew to Beijing last week to search for clues that may help solve the brutal murder of a young Chinese couple in the northern English city of Newcastle. They believe the couple's apparent involvement in a football betting scam with links to East Asian gambling syndicates may explain why they were killed.

Chinese couple Zhou Qian (left) and Yang Zhenxing, who were found murdered in their flat in the UK city of Newcastle on August 9.

Chinese couple Zhou Qian (left) and Yang Zhenxing, who were found murdered in their flat in the UK city of Newcastle on August 9.  

The bodies of Zhou Qian and her boyfriend Yang Zhenxing were found in the flat they shared in Newcastle's Croydon Road on August 9. Both victims had suffered severe head injuries. Police said severe bruising found on Yang's arms indicated that he had suffered a prolonged beating before being killed.

Ms. Zhou was originally from Hunan Province and Mr. Yang from the city of Dalian. It is believed that both graduated from Newcastle University with master's degrees in 2006. Before she died, Ms. Zhou had been working as a waitress in a Newcastle branch of the well known Japanese restaurant chain Wagamama.

Detective Superintendent Steve Wade, who is leading the murder investigation, said on August 9, "They were two nice, hard-working respectable people who have come to the UK for the best of reasons, to get a good education."

The murder came just one month after two French students, Laurent Bonomo and Gabriel Ferez, were tortured and then killed in a frenzied knife attack in their London flat. Police believe the motive for the attack was robbery. The UK has recently seen a mini-wave of violent crime. Since the beginning of the year, more than twenty young men have been killed in knife attacks. It seemed Ms. Zhou. and Mr. Yang were victims of yet another apparently random act of violence.

But following the discovery of messages posted in an Internet chat room popular with Chinese students in Britain, police shifted their attention to the couple's business activities. Mr. Yang had been selling fake degree certificates, for which it seems there is a ready market among failed Chinese students desperate to show their parents some return on an investment in overseas education that can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars.

More significantly, both Mr. Yang and Ms. Zhou had posted adverts seeking people to act as spotters at English football games. The only qualifications required were a basic knowledge of football and a mobile phone. Police believe the spotters were to telephone details of match incidents to betting syndicates in East Asia, beating live television pictures by up to a minute, and providing gamblers with an unbeatable advantage. Investigators are exploring the theory that the couple double-crossed their paymasters and were killed by professional hit men.

Closer to home, at least one of the spotters posted angry messages in the chat room, accusing the couple of failing to pay wages and expenses on time.

Friends of Ms. Zhou and Mr. Yang believe the couple's links to organized crime have been exaggerated. They have posted messages in the same chat room pointing out that Zhou and Yang were very ordinary people who lived quietly and modestly. Any money they made from their involvement in the fake degree and betting scams must have been relatively insignificant, since Ms. Zhou continued with her waitressing job.

The UK police face huge problems investigating the case, not least a lack of Mandarin speakers compounded by cultural misunderstandings. Last week investigators appealed for experts to tell them if the killing of the couple's pet cat had any "significance in Chinese culture", an idea that attracted widespread ridicule.

But the biggest problem facing police may be obtaining any useful intelligence on the shadowy East Asian gambling syndicates who at the moment appear to be their chief suspects in this tragic case.

(China.org.cn by John Sexton August 18, 2008)

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