Mon, Dec 07, 2009 - Page 19 News List

Gaming scandal linked to murders in England

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEWCASTLE, ENGLAND

It has been more than a year since two young Chinese college graduates were found bound and mutilated in their apartment in Newcastle, England. The throat of Zhen Xingyang was cut; the skull of his girlfriend, Xi Zhou, was smashed in three places.

The convicted murderer, Guang Huicao, refused to provide a motive for his crime, but detectives unearthed evidence that the victims had been involved with an Asian gambling ring that was relying on advance tips to bet on English soccer matches.

Since German law enforcement officials arrested 17 people last month in connection with a wide-ranging match-fixing investigation, new lines of inquiry have opened. At the same time, fresh questions have been raised about the dangers of criminal organizations becoming involved with sports betting.

Some trails lead to China, where 16 former soccer players and club officials were arrested late last month, and to Taiwan, whose government on Wednesday ordered an investigation into its baseball clubs after the police penetrated a pervasive match-fixing ring there.

In Newcastle, a soccer-obsessed city about 480km north of London, the killings, although not connected to the match-fixing scandal, remain something of a mystery. Cao, a Chinese national living illegally in England, was sent to jail for at least 33 years. He refused to give any explanation for the murders in return for the possibility of a lighter sentence.

The implication is that he feared retaliation for speaking up more than he did the prospect of spending much of his life in jail.

‘MESSAGE SENT’

“This was an execution,” the judge, Alan Wilkie, said at the trial in May after the jury had ruled. “In some way, two young people had crossed a large criminal gang and were punished by them. They were murdered in a cruel and savage way. Miss Zhou had suffered horrifying and unimaginable suffering, and in this way a clear message had been sent.”

The message might be that sports and betting is not a victimless crime. One officer in Bochum, where the German police investigation is centered, described the case as the tip of an iceberg. The same phrase echoes around Newcastle’s Chinatown district, where Kevin and Cici — as the couple were known to their friends — were murdered.

Detective Superintendent Steve Wade, the senior officer in the case, said in an interview 10 days ago that many questions were unanswered. His team visited China in search of clues, and his 26 years’ experience in homicides led him to conclude that organized crime was behind the killings.

Traces of Yang’s blood were found on Cao’s pants, and Yang’s wristwatch and glasses were found in Cao’s home. But Cao, a dishwasher in a restaurant, said only that he was in the couple’s apartment the day they were murdered. He said he was there to discuss renting a room and was tied up and locked in the bathroom during the killings.

The police found nothing to link Cao to soccer, but plenty to implicate the victims.

Zhou, 25 , earned a master’s degree in applied linguistics from Newcastle University. She worked as a waitress for £6 (US$10) an hour at a local noodle restaurant. Yang, also 25, had a master’s in international human resources and was unemployed.

Yet their laptop and phone records traced almost US$500,000 passing through their bank accounts over two years, Wade said.

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