Seven people involved in a high-profile telecom fraud case that led to the death of a university candidate stood trial at a court in Shandong province on Tuesday.
The defendants pleaded guilty at the province's Linyi Intermediate People's Court to cheating others out of money by posing as officers of educational, financial and real estate institutions in telephone calls made between November 2015 and August 2016.
One of the defendants, Chen Wenhui, also confessed to buying personal information online.
"They rented rooms in several regions in the country, such as Haikou, Hainan province, and Jiujiang, Jiangxi province, and made them into bases for fraud. Their major targets for their swindles were college-bound students," said Linyi prosecutors.
The stolen money amounted to over 560,000 yuan (,200) from more than 23,000 calls made, the prosecutors said.
One of the victims, Xu Yuyu, an 18-year-old student in Linyi, was called on Aug 19. She had applied for financial aid from a local educational authority two days before she received the phone call.
"In the call, I told Xu I was an educational authority officer and would provide her with about 2,600 yuan in student aid. I asked her to contact the local financial authority to find out how to receive the aid," Zheng Xiancong, 27, one of the defendants, said in court.
Xu was given a number to call that connected her to Chen. Chen, 22, from Fujian province, said he asked Xu to transfer 9,900 yuan in tuition fees into a bank account, adding the student aid would appear in her student account.
Chen also confirmed that he had obtained the personal information of Xu and others through QQ, an instant messaging tool. He added he bought more than 10,000 pieces of such information.
After discovering the money was stolen, Xu, with her father, reported the theft to police on that same evening, and on her way back home, she died of cardiac arrest, officials said. Three forensic expert witnesses said during the trial that Xu's death was linked to the great anxiety caused by the telecom fraud.
The prosecutors said Chen was the organizer of the group of fraudsters and had committed the crimes of fraud and infringement of personal information under Chinese Criminal Law. The other six had committed the crime of fraud.
Chen's lawyer said Chen took the initiative to go to police after learning about Xu's death from media reports, but prosecutors said Chen's confession could not be considered legally valid because it was not clear.
Chen, who wept in court, said: "I felt guilty for Xu's death. I wanted to get some money through telecom fraud at first, but I never thought my behavior brought such great pain to other families."
Xu's father said he hopes the court will uphold justice and he is looking forward to a fair result.
The court said it will announce verdicts at a later date.