Liu Han
Liu Han, former chairman of Hanlong Mining, smokes a cigarette during a conference in Mianyang, Sichuan province Reuters file photo

Former mining boss Liu Han was sentenced to death on Friday on charges of running a mafia-style gang in a two-decade crime spree.

A court in central Hubei province handed down the sentence, bringing to an end one of the most highly publicised trials since President Xi Jinping took office in 2013.

Liu, who is suspected to have close family ties with China's former domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang, was sentenced to death along with his brother Liu Wei.

Chinese state media outlets CCTV and Xinhua reported that the brothers and their 36-member "mafia-style" gang had committed intentional homicide.

President Xi promised to battle corruption and the campaign has so far targeted Sichuan province where Liu's company, Hanlong Mining, is based. The north-western province was also Zhou's heartland.

While Chinese media have not directly linked Zhou and Liu, they have stated Zhou was Sichuan's Communist Party chief at the time of Liu's ascendance.

Willy Lam, a scholar of Chinese history and politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told Reuters the case had captured the public imagination because of the links between Liu and Zhou.

"I think what's happening is that Xi Jinping and (Party anti-corruption tsar) Wang Qishan want to establish a harsh precedent because this is one of the biggest corruption cases since Xi took over," Lam said.

"They want to set a precedent to make people afraid, in a sense, to have a deterrence impact on corrupt officials."

State news agency Xinhua said that other gang members' sentences ranged from 11 years in prison to death.

Liu, who was arrested last year, faced charges ranging from murder to gun-running and extortion in Sichuan.