British Columbia

Man found guilty in death and dismemberment of West Vancouver millionaire

The former business partner of a West Vancouver millionaire, whose body was found in 2015, has been found guilty of manslaughter.

Gang Yuan's dismembered body was found at British Properties home in 2015

Gang Yuan's dismembered body was found at a West Vancouver home on May 2, 2015. The 42-year-old's former business partner, Li Zhao, was charged with second-degree murder in connection with his death. (Submitted)

A man who shot and dismembered his former West Vancouver business partner after an argument in 2015 has been found guilty of manslaughter and interfering with a body. 

The judge found Li Zhao, not guilty of second degree murder which is what he was charged with. 

Ian Donaldson, Zhao's defence lawyer, said he's  "happy" with the decision. 

"The Crown has the burden of proving intent and murder is a specific intent crime," he said.  "And the specific intent required for murder could not be made out." 

Police said Zhao shot Gang Yuan, 42, at a mansion in the British Properties on May 2, 2015. Both the victim and the accused had lived together off-and-on in the mansion, which had been shared by their extended family.

Zhao married Yuan's cousin.

It was alleged Zhao and Yuan had a "violent confrontation" around 2:30 a.m. that night. Yuan's body was found the following day.

Police said the millionaire businessman had been chopped into more than 100 pieces.

Police investigators worked at the home, in the 900-block of King Georges Way, after Yuan's body was found. Zhao was charged days later. (CBC)

Zhao was arrested and criminally charged days after the remains were discovered. He pleaded not guilty to both charges in 2015.

Yuan's family has described him as a successful businessman who made his money by investing in Saskatchewan real estate and agriculture, having moved to Canada in 2007.

Donaldson described his client as "timid," respectful and pushing 60," with a history of contributing to the community.

He said Zhao had expressed remorse at how the incident "went from discussion to argument to altercation to death in a hurry."

"And that was one of the reasons that the judge had a reasonable doubt about whether he ever specifically intended to kill [Yuan]."

A court battle over Yuan's estate erupted in B.C. Supreme Court in the months after his death.

Yuan's brother, Qiang Yuan, went to court to block Zhao and his wife from claiming any assets from the victim's estate. In his lawsuit, Qiang Yuan claimed Zhao killed the businessman for his money and, specifically, in hopes of getting "a free house."

In a separate case, five women and their children claimed they were entitled to Yuan's Canadian fortune and assets because of their relationships with the victim. Those assets included a number of Saskatchewan farms and luxury Vancouver properties.

One petition claimed Yuan's estate is worth more than $50 million.

Zhao, then on trial for murder, was briefly released from custody to testify at the civil trial on Dec. 6. A lawyer involved in the case wanted Zhao to speak to Yuan's character, particularly as to how he interacted with the women in his life.

Zhao painted Yuan as a serial womanizer who prided himself on how many women he could bring home but added Yuan never let any of the women stay very long out of fear they'd lay claim to his wealth.

Zhao has been in custody for about four-and-a-half years since his arrest. 

"He'll receive some additional time in custody, I expect but, of course, murder carries a minimum life sentence [unlike manslaughter]," said Donaldson.

"It's highly unlikely that the judge will sentence him to life."

Investigators first received reports of a violent confrontation at the home where Yuan's body was found on May 2, 2015. At the time, police would only say Zhao and Yuan were 'known to each other.' (CBC)

With files from Yvette Brend and Tina Lovgreen

now