A former Chinese mining tycoon has been sentenced to death for leading a crime gang that killed its rivals, a state news agency has reported.

The death sentences for Liu Han and his brother Liu Wei were the first in trials of their 36-member gang by a court in the central province of Hubei, the Xinhua agency said.

The penalties on Friday come amid an anti-corruption crackdown launched by the president, Xi Jinping, that has ensnared senior politicians and influential businessmen.

Liu Han had been the chairman of the energy conglomerate Sichuan Hanlong Group in the southwestern province of Sichuan, which owns stakes in Australian and US mines. He disappeared in March 2013, temporarily disrupting deals to finance mine development in Nevada and Australia, before police announced he had been arrested.

The Liu brothers and their associates have been charged with 15 crimes, including murder, assault, illegal imprisonment, blackmail and operating casinos.

Multiple murders

Prosecutors say their criminal activities, dating to 1993, helped them amass $6.4bn in assets with businesses in finance, energy, property and mining, Xinhua has said.

The gang is accused of nine murders, according to earlier reports. Police seized hand grenades, a half-dozen submachine guns, 20 pistols and other firearms.

Liu Han ranked 148 in 2012 on Forbes magazine's list of the richest Chinese businesspeople, with a estimated fortune of $855m. 

The group is accused of fostering ties with politicians in Sichuan that helped Liu Han win appointment as a delegate of the provincial advisory body for three terms, according to earlier Xinhua reports.

Source: AP