China executes gang boss 'Big Spender'

HONG KONG'S most notorious gangster was put to death yesterday, immediately after his appeal failed.

Cheung Tze-Keung, 45, better known as "Big Spender" and "Big Boss", was executed following confirmation of his death sentence by a Chinese court.

The hour-and-a-half-long hearing was closed, and details of how the death sentence was carried out have not emerged. It is customary, though, for those sentenced to death to be taken immediately to an execution area, where they are killed with a single bullet to the back of the head - customarily, also, the bullet has to be paid for by the condemned prisoner's family.

Four other gang members, out of the 29 tried with Cheung, were also executed yesterday.

Big Spender's gang were accused of a spectacular series of kidnaps, murders, armed robberies and arms smuggling. Their most audacious coup was to kidnap Walter Kwok, a leading construction magnate, and Victor Li, son of the property tycoon, Li-Ka Shing, for record-breaking ransoms totalling an amazing pounds 155m. The crimes were never reported to the police.

Although the kidnappings took place in Hong Kong, as did most of the gang's other crimes, the gang were tried and sentenced in the neighbouring Chinese province of Guangdong. This has led to fears that the former British colony is losing control over its jurisdiction, which is supposed to be kept separate from that of China.

Lawyers in Hong Kong have protested that the government failed to seek the return of the gang members for trial in the territory, which does not have the death penalty. After the appeal a Chinese court official insisted that the accused were only tried for crimes planned or executed in China, and dismissed any question of Hong Kong's jurisdiction being undermined.

Cheung, who was famous for his self confidence and apparent lack of fear, finally secured permission on Friday to see his two sons, aged four and seven. He is reported to have asked his father-in-law to "take care of my boys".

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