A Chinese court has sentenced six men over their part in a botched attempt to "outsource" a contract killing through an elaborate chain of intermediaries.
The men were charged with intentional homicide and received prison sentences of up to five years in Guangxi province on October 17, according to a verdict posted by the court online.
The murky case, which some in China have viewed as something of a parable of modern life and the dangers of corruption, began when real estate developer Tan Youhui contacted an alleged hitman in October 2013, with a request to kill a business competitor, surnamed Wei.
The hired man, Xi Guangan, received two million Chinese yuan ($282,600) to kill Wei, who had filed a lawsuit against Tan's company over a dispute arising from a development project, the court said.
Xi took the money and outsourced the job to another would-be hitman, Mo Tianxiang, while keeping half of the initial amount.
Mo, who was offered one million Chinese yuan ($141,300), also decided against carrying out the hit. Instead, he pocketed some of the proposed fee and found another man, Yang Kangsheng.
Yang was paid 270,000 Chinese yuan ($38,100) up front and promised another 500,000 Chinese yuan ($70,600) when the job was completed.
Yang then pocketed part of the money and outsourced the job to a fourth man, Yang Guangsheng, with an initial offer of 200,000 Chinese yuan ($28,200), and a further bonus of 500,000 Chinese yuan ($70,600) on completion of the deed. The court document did not specify whether the two Yangs were related.
The chain of outsourcing continued for over six months until the job reached a fifth person, Ling Xiansi. By that point, Ling was offered just 100,000 yuan ($14,100) to murder Wei, the court said.
Ling also got cold feet. But rather than killing Wei or finding another supposed hitman, he met with the intended target directly -- and offered to help fake his death.
Wei agreed to let Ling take some photos of him tied-up in an attempt to stage the murder.
Ling later reported his "success" up the chain, all the way to Tan -- the original contractor.
Wei meanwhile also reported the case to the police, who charged Tan and the five middlemen for intentional homicide.
Tan received a five-year jail term for initiating the murder plot, while the would-be hitmen received prison sentences between two to four years, according to the verdict.
The case has sparked discussion online in China. Some have likened the case to subcontracting practices that are common in the country's construction industry, which has often drawn criticism for giving rise to poorly constructed buildings.
"Even killers in China have understood the essence of subcontracting their work," one user commented on Weibo, China's version of Twitter.
"This is the nature of business," another wrote.