Beijing: Twenty-two Chinese 'tomb raiders' were on Thursday handed down prison terms by a court in northeast China, with the gang leader sentenced to death.
When members of the gang, led by Yao Yuzhong, were arrested last year it was one of the biggest busts of its kind supervised by the Ministry of Public Security since the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949.
Today's ruling given by Chaoyang City Intermediate People's Court in Liaoning Province sentenced 22 members of the gang.
Yao was found guilty of several offences including tomb raiding, looting and selling stolen antiques and was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve while other major gang members were given prison terms.
The court heard that Yao's gang was highly organised, and would source fund, explore, loot and trade relics.
Among 32 artifacts retrieved by police, 16 were under grade-one state cultural protection.
The court ordered that 77 relics still in the possession of the gang members must be returned.
Yao's gang was among 12 organised gangs implicated in illegal excavations at Niuheliang, a Neolithic site in northeastern Liaoning.
Police apprehended 225 people and retrieved a total of 2,063 artifacts, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.