BEIJING — Prosecutors in China have indicted 74 people in connection with the killing of 17 people whose corpses were used to invent fake mining accidents and to extract compensation owed to victims’ families.
The indictments are the latest evidence that China’s notoriously dangerous mines, where hundreds of workers die each year, may have spawned a murderous business profiting from death.
The crimes spanned six provinces and regions, including Shanxi and Inner Mongolia — two of China’s biggest coal-mining areas — and the charges include faking mine accidents, swindling compensation, homicide, fraud, blackmail and concealing crimes, prosecutors from Inner Mongolia said in a that was widely reported on Tuesday.
The statement identified two of the defendants but otherwise provided no details about them, and it gave no information about the victims. The prosecutors’ office refused to answer questions about the case when reached by telephone. But Caixin, a business newsmagazine, that the victims had mostly been poor villagers from Yunnan Province, in southwest China.
“Promising targets were cheated into mines in the name of work recruitment,” the report said, citing unnamed sources familiar with the case. “After working there for a while, they were killed when the right time came, and a scene was devised to swindle the compensation.”
The report said that there might have been more than 17 victims, but that it was possible that victims could not be traced because they were quickly cremated and their ashes were not kept, it said.
The police first suspected fraud early last year, after one of the intended victims survived a faked accident in Inner Mongolia, the report said.
A well-known Chinese film, “Blind Shaft,” , told a similar story, about a pair of grifters who make a brutal living by persuading young men to work in mines under false names, so that their families could not be found when they were killed in fabricated accidents.
The case revealed this week is also not unique. Newspaper reports have described several elaborate schemes involving murder or stolen corpses to extract compensation from mine owners who would rather pay off families of the dead than face official inquiries.
In 2014, a court in Hebei Province, in northern China, gave and prison sentences to 16 others for having recruited men to work in mines under false names and killed them for the hush money. News reports and trial summaries have described similar cases , and twice in 2012.
“Scenes like those in ‘Blind Shaft’ are played out again and again in real life,” one newspaper, the Chongqing Morning Post, the latest case.