Page last updated at 07:12 GMT, Tuesday, 18 August 2009 08:12 UK

500 Chinese suspects 'on the run'

By Michael Bristow
BBC News, Beijing

Criminal suspect Li Qiang from Chongqing, China
Local businessman Li Qiang is one of those arrested

Nearly 500 criminal suspects are on the run following a crackdown on gangsters in China, according to media reports.

Three billionaires are among hundreds of people who have already been arrested in the two-month campaign in Chongqing.

The head of the city's judicial department is under investigation after claims that he protected gangsters.

Police have seized guns and ammunition, and they have also frozen assets worth 1.5b yuan ($220m, £130m).

Chongqing, located in western China on the Yangtze River, is notorious for its criminal gangs, according to press reports.

'Iron fist'

Illegal loans are one way the gangs make money. One local official said the loan business could be worth as much as a third of the city's annual revenue.

It appears many of the gangsters received protection from senior officials, including Wen Qiang, the head of the city's judicial administrative bureau, who has recently been detained.

Mr Wen was also deputy head of the city's police force for more than a decade and a senior member of the Communist Party.

He is being linked to a prominent former businessman, Li Qiang, who has also been arrested. Mr Li was a member of the city's parliament.

"Chongqing has extended an iron fist to carry out a concentrated attack by tightening the net around evil forces," said a press release issued by the city government, which has also released photographs of the leading suspects.

"At the moment, we've achieved an initial victory."

More than 1,500 people suspected of being involved in 14 criminal gangs have been arrested.

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