Gang Leader Evades Death Penalty for Two Decades Thanks to Political Connections

May 5, 2019 Updated: May 5, 2019

A local gang leader in the southwestern city of Kunming was able to evade his death penalty punishment for two decades thanks to his parents’ roles in the local police.

Sun Xiaoguo was convicted of rape and assault charges in two court cases, the latter in 1998 when he was sentenced to death.

But thanks to protection from his mother, a police officer in the Kunming police bureau in charge of criminal cases, and his stepfather, then-deputy director at the local Guandu district police station, Sun got his punishment delayed and later was released from prison for good behavior.

Entrepreneur and Gang Leader

Kunming is the capital city of Yunnan Province, China’s most southwestern region that is connected with Burma, Laos, and Vietnam.

The state-run newspaper Kunming Daily reported on April 24 that amid a crackdown on local gangs launched by Kunming authorities, Sun Xiaoguo and his gang was arrested.

Sun ran several front companies, as a board member of four local companies, including two trading companies, a restaurant management company, and an investment firm.

He also previously ran several nightclubs in Kunming and nearby Yuxi and Wenshan cities, but sold his shares in them in 2017.

On Tianyan Cha, a Chinese database of local businesses, Sun is listed as an entrepreneur.

So far, those four companies are still in operation. Kunming authorities said Sun has been detained because he operates a gang, but has not filed formal charges.

Juvenile Offender

Sun in fact has a long criminal history.

Sun, now 44, was born and raised in Kunming. His previous criminal case were exposed by the state-run, but more liberal-minded Southern Weekly, in January 1998.

Investigative reporter Yu Liuwen said he was threatened by Sun’s mother after the report was published, who made a phone call to the newspaper’s office saying she would put him in prison.

The article is no longer available online, while the court verdicts have been removed from local authorities’ websites. But through sleuthing, netizens recovered the articles and reposted them on social media.

In October 1994, a local court convicted Sun and other five suspects of gang-raping two young women. According to the Southern Weekly report, which was based on interviews with dozens of local sources, after Sun was arrested, Sun’s parents arranged for his age to be changed from 19 to 17 years-old, so that he could be charged as a minor and receive a reduced punishment.

In December 1995, the court sentenced Sun to three years in prison with a crime of rape, to be served until October 1997. Southern Weekly reported that Sun was not sent to prison, but in fact went straight home.

Sentenced to Death

Soon after, Sun was on the prowl again.

According to the Southern Weekly report, citing court documents and interviews, on Nov. 7, 1997, Sun lured two underage girls to a nightclub. Inside a private room, Sun and his followers began to assault them.

They punched and kicked them. One young woman faced the most brutal beating: they used cigarette butts to burn parts of her body, took off her clothes and used toothpicks to prick her nipples, repeatedly hit her head against the marble table, and peed on her face. The young woman lost consciousness.

Sun’s followers sent the girls to the hospital after realizing they could be seriously injured.

According to the subsequent police investigation, Sun had raped one of the women in June 1997 when he first knew her. Sun was also involved in the gang rape of at least six other teenagers, according to police files the Southern Weekly obtained.

The newspaper also reported that since 1996, Sun asked many bars, clubs, and disco halls in Kunming to pay him protection fees, threatening that his gang would destroy their facilities if they did not comply.

According to an internal book of China’s biggest cases published by China Law Press in 1999, for the harm done to the two women, Sun was sentenced to death in February 1998 on charges of rape, insults to women, intentional injury, and picking quarrels and provoking trouble.

The Kunming intermediate court sentenced Sun to death on Feb. 18, 1998. Sun appealed the sentence but the Yunnan supreme court upheld the sentence.

But on March 9, 1999, Sun was found to still be alive. The Yunnan supreme court changed the death penalty to include two years’ reprieve. In September 2001, the court again changed his sentence, to 18.5 years in prison. The prison then released Sun early in 2012, citing good behavior.

State-run newspaper The Paper reported on April 26 that the police officers in charge of his case at the involved police bureaus and the Kunming Prison are now under investigation.