He was inspired by the American TV series “Breaking Bad” and used cats and dogs as test victims before poisoning at least three people, leaving a gambling magnate dead. Before that, he was a France- and U.S.-educated lawyer and executive at one of China’s best-known companies.
That’s the slowly emerging profile of the main suspect in a murder case that has riveted China over the past few weeks.
The case involving the Christmas Day death of Yoozoo Games Co. Ltd. founder and chief executive Lin Qi initially captivated China because of the company’s ties to a high-profile movie project based on a hit series of science fiction novels. But increasingly bizarre details of the case have provided their own draw, including last week’s claim by a woman that a child recently fathered by Lin out of wedlock with her sister was due a share of Lin’s fortune worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
The latest details to the case read like the plot of a thriller, and were provided to Caixin by several people close to Lin and the company, who all spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter. Officials from the Yoozoo unit headed by Xu Yao, the man believed to be the main suspect, did not return Caixin’s request for comment. Caixin was also unable to reach Xu or the legal team he has reportedly hired to handle his case.
Lin was hospitalized on Dec. 15 and died around 5 p.m. Christmas Day, a person close to him told Caixin. Another person familiar with the case said Lin had been taken to Shanghai’s Huashan Hospital, which determined he had been poisoned by tetrodotoxin, a neurotoxin most often associated with the pufferfish, a Japanese delicacy known for its potential deadliness if the toxin isn’t cleaned out before consumption. If ingested, it can lead to dizziness and vomiting as well as numbness in the fingers and mouth. There is no known effective treatment.
Lin was given a massive transfusion of about 40 liters of blood and underwent surgery that seemed to stabilize his condition. But because he was also suffering from mercury poisoning at the time, he began bleeding from his organs, causing his heart and lungs to fail, leading to his death.
Two people close to Lin told Caixin that the investigation found at least five types of poison in his body, including the mercury and tetrodotoxin.
Lin Qi, the murdered founder and CEO of Yoozoo Games, at an event in Chengdu, Sichuan province, 2018. Zhang Zhi/Chengdu Business Daily/People Visual
Shortly after police first announced Lin’s poisoning, they said the suspect in the case was a colleague at Yoozoo but only gave the surname as Xu. People from the gaming industry said that could be Xu Yao, a former Yoozoo director who worked at the company’s motion picture subsidiary, where he was leading a project to create films based on the acclaimed “Three-Body Problem” science fiction novels.
Xu was obsessed with the American TV series “Breaking Bad,” which centers on a high school chemistry teacher who becomes a regional drug kingpin, and he had set up his own poison manufacturing lab in Shanghai’s Qingpu District, according to more than one person close to Lin. Xu then purchased more than 100 types of poisons on the dark web, and would frequently test them on dogs, cats, and other pets. After determining what could kill such animals, he may have set about preparing to poison people, the sources said.
Xu allegedly prepared a bottle with 30 probiotic pills and gave it to Lin, putting a poison pill in with the others, according to their account. He got Lin’s secretary to administer the pills, with the secretary also taking some. Several days after starting to take the pills, Lin took the poisoned one and immediately began feeling sick. He had to be hospitalized and died 10 days later.
One of the people close to Lin said Xu was a seasoned legal expert who has refused to make any confession. To date, many individual links in the case have been uncovered, including Xu’s purchase and manufacture of poisons. But an actual chain of evidence, including details of how the poisoning occurred, is still lacking, and could pose a challenge to investigators.
Numerous sources from the gaming sector told Caixin they didn’t know of any debts or personal connections outside work that may have motivated Xu to take such actions.
Born in 1981, Xu has an extensive legal background, studying law first in China before attending and graduating from the insurance law section at France’s Paul Cézanne University in 2006. Two years later, he studied at the University of Michigan’s law school in the U.S. He returned to China and worked in the legal section of well-known financial conglomerate Fosun Group for nearly 10 years before joining Yoozoo in 2017. People who knew him at Yoozoo described him as professional, low-key, and quiet.
As Lin was getting anxious about delays to the “Three-Body Problem” project in 2017, Xu was recommended to him and joined Yoozoo as chief risk control officer in the company’s legal and government affairs office. Xu spent nearly three years working out issues surrounding the film rights involved with the “Three-Body Problem,” and in 2018 he became CEO of the production company tasked with making the project, in charge of incubating and developing intellectual property for it.
While Lin appreciated Xu’s legal skills and expertise, he began to feel he was less suited for involvement with production of the films, and was planning to give that responsibility to Zhao Jilong, vice president at Yoozoo’s film affiliate working on the “Three-Body” project.
Caixin has learned that besides Lin, Zhao and one other person at Yoozoo were also poisoned. After feeling sick, several tests revealed that Zhao had been slowly poisoned with mercury, with tests revealing nearly 10 times the ordinary level of mercury in his body. Following treatment, he is expected to leave the hospital in the near future.
The other poisoned employee worked in the online gaming unit, Yoozoo’s main business.
A source familiar with Yoozoo told Caixin that Xu and Zhao weren’t on good terms, having fallen into a rivalry over the course of their work on the “Three-Body” project. Details of Zhao’s poisoning have yet to be made public. But the case has caused broader unease at the company, leading many of its top executives to get tested for poisoning since Lin’s death, the sources told Caixin.
Before the latest intrigue, Yoozoo made headlines last September when it announced it had brought in U.S. entertainment giant Netflix to co-produce the “Three-Body” project, with Lin and Zhao named as executive producers. Xu’s name was not included in that announcement.
This is an original article written by Guan Cong and Yang Ge of Caixin Global, and has been republished with permission. The article can be found on Caixin’s website here.
(Header image: Left: A promotional poster for the American TV series “Breaking Bad.” From Douban; Right: A portrait of Xu Yao, who is suspected of poisoning several of his Yoozoo colleagues. From 智合 on WeChat)