A member of a gang of Trans-Siberian train robbers who robbed, raped and murdered passengers was arrested after 18 years on the run Friday at Beijing Capital International Airport as he tried to transit to Macao.
Zong Liyong, now 47, was a small-time entrepreneur traveling between China and Russia, before falling into a criminal gang. He rose through the ranks, becoming known as “Dongcheng lao qi,” which meant he was the No.7 gangster in the district.
He was arrested when an immigration official surnamed Wang from Beijing General Station of Exit and Entry Frontier Inspection became suspicious when the name on his departure card didn’t match the name on his passport. He identified Zong as being on the wanted list of the Ministry of Public Security of China.
Beijing News reported that Zong was hiding out in Europe. It is believed that he was on his way to Macao to gamble for money to support his fugitive lifestyle.
Gangs started to target the international train in 1992, robbing passengers on the six-day ride between Beijing and Moscow, with attacks becoming increasingly violent in spring 1993. Many gang members were arrested after a cross-border investigation in June 1993. In an echo of Britain’s infamous 1963 Great Train Robbery, one of the biggest thefts in the UK’s history, one of the investigators, Ai Anjun, collaborated on a movie script called The Train Robbers, released in 1995.
“Zong was in one of four gangs who robbed passengers of millions of yuan. We captured 70 principal gangsters 18 years ago, but Zong was one of a few who fled abroad,” said Ai, a publicity official in Beijing Railway Public Security Bureau.
The worst incident was on May 26, 1993 when a six-member gang led by gangster Xiao Jun wielding knives, pistols and axes took over an entire train. The robbers threatened to cut off fingers if gold rings didn’t come off. After the gang fled in Mongolia, a second gang controlled by Zhu Quanxing and Zhao Xiaohua raided the train and tortured passengers when they discovered they had less money. All three gang leaders were later arrested.
According to Ai’s blog, over 20 Chinese passengers were robbed of over $7,000, hundreds of thousands of rubles and a lot of gold jewelry. Three women were raped while many were stabbed and seriously injured.
“The reason why those criminals became so aggressive and rampant was because they believed it was beyond the enforcement of both Chinese and Russian police,” Ai said.
However, in June 1995, the Chinese police set up a Trans-Siberian investigation squad to work with their Russian counterparts. The bilateral operation led to the arrest of six Chinese thugs living in Moscow. They identified other gang members there and in Beijing.
“Most gangsters were Beijing taxi drivers and street stall owners especially targeting Chinese merchants carrying hard currency for purchases in Russia. They usually left Beijingers, foreigners, embassy personnel and students in peace,” Ai said.
Xu Weiya, vice director of the Beijing Railway Transportation Intermediate Court, told Beijing News on Sunday that 68 robbers were arrested in 1993. Thirty-one were sentenced to life imprisonment with the rest sentenced to at least 10 years in 1994.
On June 25, Jia Xiaoming, another of the train robbers was arrested in Guilin, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region after hiding out for over 18 years. He was transferred to Beijing for further investigation, according to a Xinhua report on July 3.
Meanwhile, Zong is in the custody of Beijing Railway Public Security Bureau, pending investigation.
“He was hiding for 18 years, and now he got caught by making such an obvious mistake. I believe that’s called ‘the long arm of the law’ and some day it will apply to the rest who are still fleeing,” Ai said.