The discovery of the body of a murdered whistle-blower in central China has forced the local authorities to act after claims police failed to investigate the victim's disappearance 16 years ago.
Police in Huaihua, Hunan province, confirmed on Sunday that the body found buried under the playground at Xinhuang No 1 Middle School on Thursday was that of Deng Shiping, who went missing in January 2003, state news agency Xinhua reported.
Deng's case made national headlines because of reports that police had failed to investigate the case at the time despite the pleas of his family, prompting claims the suspects had benefited from their connections to powerful and influential figures in the city.
According to a report in People's Daily, days after his disappearance, Deng's family told police they suspected that the 53-year-old had been killed and buried under the playground by Du Shaoping, who had been given a contract to build the playground.
Deng, a project supervisor, had refused to sign off the project, saying the proposed works were substandard.
He was last seen in the company of Du, whose uncle, Huang Binsong, was the school's principal and is accused of awarding him the contract without a bidding process and paid him 1.4 million yuan (US$204,000 in today's exchange rate) for the work despite only having a budget of 800,000 yuan for the project.
The disappearance was never formally investigated and police failed to question Du at the time.
In a recent appeal to have the case reopened, Deng's family said that Du and Huang were so well connected in Xinhuang county that local prosecutors told them they dare not investigate the case, People's Daily reported.
On Sunday Xu Xianhui, the Hunan deputy governor and chief of the province's public security department, promised that a through investigation into Deng's death would he held, promising to target organised crime no matter who was involved.
"We must reassure the spirits of the deceased, comfort the family, and earnestly safeguard social fairness and justice and the dignity of the rule of law," Xu told P eople's Daily.
The newspaper, the official mouthpiece of the Communist Party, said the "horrific case" proved the need for a recent initiative to root out organised crime.
Beijing started a campaign to target "dark and evil forces" in January last year with a focus on strengthening grass-roots governance and law enforcement.
As well as targeting organised crime networks, the crackdown will also target "protective umbrellas", a euphemism for officials and police who help shield wrongdoers.
People's Daily alleged that the suspects in Deng's murder had benefited from "not only a protective umbrella but a protective net".
The crackdown on organised crime appears to have prompted the authorities in Huaihua to respond to Deng's family's 16-year campaign for action.
In April this year Du and a number of other people were taken into custody on suspicion of being members of a criminal organisation.
Du and another member confessed to the killing of Deng and burying him in the school playground, according to Xinhua.
Police started to dig on Tuesday and found his remains, on Thursday.
Huang is also under investigation by the local party disciplinary inspection team and the local authorities have formed a task force to investigation Du's associates and work out whether he had benefited from a "protective umbrella".
The case has prompted an angry response online from people who called for the authorities to ensure that anyone who obstructed the initial investigation should face punishment.
"Justice delayed is justice denied," one internet user said.
"Only by removing the network of relationships and protective umbrella can the wronged victim rest in peace," wrote another, who said the school should set up a statue of Deng to honour his sacrifice.
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