Police have arrested nine people in southwest China suspected of trafficking mentally ill people to be murdered in mines across the country in a bid to blackmail mine owners into paying compensation, a local official said Thursday.
Mine owners in China face intense pressure to keep deadly accidents under wraps, and have reportedly been found paying off journalists and relatives of dead miners in recent years to keep safety problems from coming to light.
The nine were arrested recently in Leibo county in Sichuan province in connection with suspected murders in nine other provinces, said an official who identified himself as the deputy director of the Leibo government's propaganda department. Like many Chinese officials, he gave only his surname, Jiang.
He said there were 17 cases of trafficking over the last several years, but did not say how many people had been murdered.
"We're making our best effort to help police elsewhere," Jiang said.
He gave no details about how the mentally ill people were trafficked or whether they were forced to work in the mines.
The murders took place over several years, but were just revealed by police this week, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
In one case in Fujian province, Xinhua said a suspect surnamed Feng was charged along with two others with beating a mentally ill person to death in an iron mine, and then pushing the mine owners for compensation by claiming to be a relative of the victim.
The cases are similar to the plot of the 2003 Chinese movie "Blind Shaft" in which two coal miners plan the murder of a fellow worker and make it look like an accident in an attempt to extort money from the mine boss.
China's mining industry is the world's deadliest, with most accidents blamed on poor safety as enterprises scramble to feed the country's insatiable demand for coal.