BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese police have detained a well-connected self-proclaimed master of the spiritual martial art of Qigong on suspicion of the murder of a disciple, state media said on Friday, a case which has gripped China with lurid tales of wealth and magic.
Wang Lin had won supporters and fans in high places with tales of his "supernatural powers" that have spread on the Internet, including conjuring snakes from thin air, and pictures have appeared online of him posing with celebrities.
State news agency Xinhua said that Wang was detained by police in the eastern province of Jiangxi, from where he hails, over the alleged kidnapping and death of a businessman, provincial legislator and disciple called Zou Yong earlier this month.
Xinhua said the two met in 2002, and that Zou told a television station he paid 5 million yuan ($805,000) in 2009 to become Wang's disciple.
"Wang has been previously investigated for possession of a gun, unlicensed medical practice, bribery and fraud. Local police and health authorities launched an investigation in 2013 but failed to make any headway due to lack of evidence," Xinhua said.
It was not possible to reach Wang for comment and it is not clear if he has a lawyer.
The Global Times, a popular tabloid published by the ruling Communist Party's official People's Daily, said that Zou also gave Wang sports cars and gold to teach him tai chi, but the two fell out in 2012.
Religious groups, sects and religious leaders outside of government control have multiplied in recent years, as Chinese seek to find spiritual meaning following some three decades of breakneck economic growth.
The issue gained prominence this year after former domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang was linked to a mysterious fortune teller and healer during his corruption and abuse of power trial. Zhou was jailed for life last month.
The government has cracked down on groups and individuals it sees as belonging to dangerous cults.
Authorities executed two members of a banned religious cult in February for murdering a woman in a McDonald's restaurant after she rebuffed an apparent recruitment attempt by the group last May.
In a separate report, Xinhua sad that 11 members of a cult in the northwestern region of Ningxia were jailed for up to 8-1/2 years on Friday for "instigating believers to defy law and regulations with the cult's doctrine".
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard)