Chinese nanny sentenced to death in tragic arson case

SHANGHAI: A Chinese nanny with heavy gambling debts was sentenced to death Friday for setting a fire that killed her employer's wife and children in a tragedy which grabbed national attention and raised questions over the official handling of the case.

A court in the eastern city of Hangzhou found Mo Huanjing, a nanny for a family of five, guilty of arson in the fire that killed a mother and her three children on June 22 last year, and sentenced her to death.

The case went viral in China due to the tragic circumstances and reported delays in the firefighting response, with Friday's court announcement among the top-trending items on China's Twitter-like Weibo platform, with tens of millions of "reads".

The Weibo hashtag "Wife and kids in heaven June 22" by 37-year-old Lin Shengbin, who was away when the fire occurred, has generated nearly 1.3 billion "reads" since the tragedy first occurred.

Mo, 35, was allegedly an obsessive gambler who borrowed and also stole money from the family as her debts mounted.

The court said Mo admitted to starting a fire in the living room of the family's 18th-floor high-rise apartment in Hangzhou, planning to put it out quickly to play the hero and use the resulting goodwill to seek more money from her employers.

But the fire rapidly raged out of control and Mo escaped, leaving behind Lin's 34-year-old wife Zhu Xiaozhen and three children aged six, nine, and 11 years, who all died of asphyxiation.

Lin has gained 2.3 million Weibo followers since he opened an account to document his efforts to seek justice.

"The devil has finally received the punishment of the law, the death penalty," Lin said in a post on Friday.

"I have suffered day and night for the past 200 days, and today finally received the verdict."

Lin said he planned to pursue civil cases against other "powerful" parties who he blames for the deaths.

He did not offer specific details but has previously blamed Greentown, the builder of the high-rise and a major listed property developer, saying poor safety features in the apartment complex contributed to a delayed fire-fighting response.

The fire department last year denied accusations that it was slow to respond, instead blaming low water pressure and a lack of required fire safety features in the building.

China regularly sees deadly fire disasters, often blamed on the lax enforcement or flouting of fire safety rules. — AFP