Murdered couple were involved in 'website scams'

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A Chinese couple may have been murdered because of their connection to an internet betting scam and a fraudulent scheme selling bogus educational qualifications, a court heard yesterday.

Hundreds of thousands of pounds had passed through the accounts of Xi Zhou and her boyfriend Zhen Xing Yang, both 25, before they were found bound and savagely beaten at their flat in Newcastle upon Tyne last August.

A 30-year-old fellow Chinese, Guang Hui Cao, went on trial yesterday accused of their murder. It was alleged he used a level of violence that was "difficult to understand", the prosecution said. He denies the charges.

Robert Smith QC told Newcastle Crown Court that Cao, who followed proceedings with the help of an interpreter, was linked to mobile phones and a computer taken from the couple's flat after apparently responding to an advert looking for a lodger to rent a spare room at the flat.

Mr Yang, known as Kevin, was beaten with a hammer and had his throat cut when he was alone in the house. Miss Zhou, known as Cici, died a few hours later that afternoon when she returned from her job at Wagamama in the city centre. She was bound and gagged, beaten with a hammer and left to suffocate.

Mr Smith said: "The infliction of that degree of violence is difficult to understand if all that was wanted was the theft of three mobile phones and a laptop computer."

Although the couple earned just £17,000 between them, police discovered that £233,690 had passed through their bank accounts and Mr Yang had been able to send £45,000 home to his parents in China.

Only £10 was found during a search of the property by detectives and the prosecution said it was "impossible to say" whether money had been taken during the attacks.

The prosecution said there was no evidence of a violent struggle and Cao had met the couple on at least one previous occasion. Police later found a pair of trousers, heavily stained with Mr Yang's blood, which also contained traces of Cao's DNA. The dead man's spectacles and watch, also splattered with blood, were found in the defendant's home, it was claimed. The case continues.