YANGJIANG, CHINA — Scores of police gripping black clubs guarded a courthouse in southern China on Tuesday -- the first day of a trial for two alleged gangster bosses, the "Hammerhead" and "Spicy Qin," accused of using violence to build an empire that included everything from underground casinos to cement factories, truck lines and poultry markets.
Hundreds of people gathered outside the courthouse in the small southern coastal city of Yangjiang, hoping to get a glimpse of the alleged mob kingpins -- who arrived under tight security in a police bus with black ski masks over their faces to protect them from attack and publicity.
The defendants Xu Jianqiang, known as the "Hammerhead," and his partner, Lin Guoqin, or "Spicy Qin," were arrested in November 2007 in Yangjiang, which calls itself the country's knife and scissors capital because it boasts a big industry churning out sharp tools.
But a notice taped to a courthouse wall said the men were accused of leading a gangster, or "black society," organization that engaged in fraud, tax evasion, armed robbery, illegal detention, malicious injury and gambling, "among other crimes."
If found guilty, they could be sentenced to death for such a long list of offenses. The court hasn't said if they've entered a plea for all the charges yet, and their lawyers haven't made public comments.
But the state-run Southern Metropolis Daily has reported that Xu pleaded innocent to charges of premeditated murder and gun dealing.
Before his arrest, Lin held high-ranking posts in several business groups and had a seat in Yangjiang's local legislature.