Li Lijuan, once known as an angel mother for raising abandoned and disabled children, started to stand trial on charges of multiple crimes including fraud and blackmail on Wednesday morning in a court of Wu’an city in North China’s Hebei province.
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The trial kicked off at 8:30 am at Wu’an People’s Court and is expected to last three days, the Beijing News reported.
About 110 people, including Li’s family, employees of different government organs and representatives from all walks of life are present at the trial.
“Attending seats at the court were booked out long before the trial started, because the case has drawn great attention nationwide,” a worker at the court was quoted as saying by the Beijing News.
Together with Li, another 15 defendants, including her boyfriend Xu Qi, are being tried at the hearing.
They are charged by with multiple crimes, including disturbing the social order, forging company seals, blackmail, fraud and duty encroachment, according to the report.
The trial was originally scheduled to start May 23. But Li fired her previous two lawyers before that date and applied to appoint others for her defense.
She insisted that she was innocent and wanted to be tried at another court other than the one in her own hometown, the report by the Beijing News said.
Li was once known as a benevolent woman for adopting more than 100 orphans and abandoned children, and spent a lot of money raising them.
Her story was once largely reported by local and nationwide media and also helped her earn recognition as one of the top 10 people in Hebei who moved the public in 2006.
Her good reputation ended in June last year when she was arrested by the public security bureau in Wu’an city on suspicion of disturbing the social order and blackmail.
More than 70 adopted children under her care at the time were taken over by the local government.
She was also alleged to have manipulated her adopted children to hinder construction sites in order to blackmail construction companies.
Previous media reports said local police had frozen her personal bank accounts, as many as 45, holding total deposits worth more than 20 million yuan ($2.9 million).
Huang Rui contributed to the story.