Liu Han, a Chinese mining tycoon believed to have links to China's former security czar, Zhou Yongkang, was convicted of murder and sentenced to death by a provincial court Friday for leading a gang on a crime spree spanning two decades, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

A court in Hubei province found that Liu and his brother Liu Yong, also known as Liu Wei, were guilty of organizing and leading “mafia-style crime and murder,” and handed down the sentence in the first trials of the 36-member gang. Liu is the former chairman of Sichuan Hanlong Group, an energy conglomerate based in southwestern China that owns stakes in mines in Australia and the U.S., and once tried to take over an Australian mining company, Sundance Resources Limited (ASX:SDL).

The court verdict reportedly stated that Liu and his group had "in an organized fashion obtained financial gains via illegal activities,” and on multiple occasions committed murder. "Liu Han and Liu Wei had extremely malicious intentions, their acts were exceptionally atrocious, their social influences were extremely vile and their crimes and the consequences were extremely serious," the court reportedly said, in a posting on Sina Weibo, a Chinese microblogging site. "They should be severely punished according to the law."

The two brothers received the death sentence along with three other members of the gang, while the other 31 accused members were given penalties ranging from life imprisonment to three years in prison. 

Liu, who was ranked 148th on Forbes’ list of the richest Chinese business people in 2012, was once a business associate of Zhou Bin, the eldest son of China's top-ranked security official who has been the subject of a massive investigation by China's anti-corruption agency, a source told Reuters.

While Liu’s case has not been specifically linked to Zhou by Chinese state media, several top officials from Sichuan province linked to Zhou have come under scrutiny in recent months. The Sichuan-based gang had strong political connections, which played a role in Liu’s appointment as a delegate to Sichuan's political advisory body, BBC reported, citing Chinese state media.