‘He was just bones and noth­ing else’

Life has been like a bad movie for the griev­ing son of a man who was killed and his body dumped in the desert of the UAE, writes Amanda Sax­ton.

Sunday News - - NEWS -

THE last time Wil­liam Luo saw his fa­ther was when he waved him good­bye at Auck­land air­port in May.

Hong Xi’s skele­ton was found buried in the desert of Abu Dhabi, the largest emir in the United Arab Emi­rates, in Septem­ber. Luo, 29, had the bones cre­mated, then trav­elled to China with the ashes for his fa­ther’s fu­neral but, now back home sell­ing houses in the south-east Auck­land sub­urb of Flat Bush, he says the past few months have felt like be­ing in a thriller movie.

His mis­sion now: ‘‘to make my mother happy’’.

Au­thor­i­ties in Dubai be­lieved Luo’s 56-year-old busi­ness­man fa­ther was mur­dered by a col­league dur­ing a stopover in early Au­gust. They said his body got stashed in the boot of a car, driven to Abu Dhabi and hid­den in sand dunes.

Look­ing back, what Luo found creepi­est were the texts via WeChat – a Chi­nese so­cial me­dia mo­bile ap­pli­ca­tion – from his fa­ther’s ac­count, sug­gest­ing he was still alive when his body was de­cay­ing in the desert. One mes­sage said Hong Xi had trav­elled to Thai­land on a fake pass­port and needed money and that Luo should go to Thai­land to help him.

Af­ter the sender re­fused to send a selfie con­firm­ing his iden­tity, Luo dropped ev­ery­thing and flew to Bangkok, but Luo now be­lieves those mes­sages were sent by his fa­ther’s killers.

Af­ter fail­ing to lo­cate his fa­ther, Thai au­thor­i­ties told him to go to Dubai. Po­lice there launched an in­ves­ti­ga­tion and a body was found on Septem­ber 15, right where four ar­rested Chi­nese sus­pects — in­clud­ing Hong Xi’s busi­ness part­ner and her son— said it would be.

Luo be­lieves the sus­pects –who are cur­rently in cus­tody in Dubai – killed his fa­ther for money. He says he has since learned the woman owed many peo­ple money and that her son had large gam­bling debts.

Hong Xi’s in­juries in­cluded sev­eral bro­ken ribs and a bro­ken spine, which Luo was told was the likely cause of death.

Luo has able to view his fa­ther’s re­mains.

‘‘He was just bones and noth­ing else. I never thought that the last time I’d see my fa­ther he would be bones.’’

Luo took his fa­ther to the neigh­bour­ing emi­rate of Shar­jah as for­eign­ers are not al­lowed to be cre­mated in Dubai.

At the cre­ma­to­rium, Luo faced prob­lems be­cause Hong Xi’s pass­port had never been found. While he had a let­ter from po­lice in Dubai stat­ing it was lost, of­fi­cials in Shar­jah in­sisted they needed the orig­i­nal. A bribe got it sorted.

Luo grew frus­trated with the ar­chaic bu­reau­cracy in the UAE.

‘‘Ev­ery­thing must be on pa­per be­cause there are no com­put­ers, and it must be stamped— any­thing via email or in elec­tronic for­mat means noth­ing,’’ he said.

‘‘The only thing you can do is beg and say nice things to the po­lice­man. If he’s happy, if he likes you, then he will stamp the doc­u­ment. Oth­er­wise you have to wait.’’

He laughed in ret­ro­spect: ‘‘They also say ‘OK, no prob­lem’, con­stantly. But I can say noth­ing over there is no prob­lem.’’

In Novem­ber Luo flew from Dubai to his fa­ther’s home­town, Nan­jing, for a tra­di­tional Chi­nese fu­neral. Four gen­er­a­tions of fam­ily spent three days and two nights with Hong Xi’s ashes, at his par­ents’ home.

Hong Xi’s fam­ily, friends, and col­leagues col­luded to keep the de­tails of his death a secret from his el­derly par­ents as they did not be­lieve they would be able to han­dle the truth of what hap­pened to their son. Rather than be­ing mur­dered in a for­eign desert, they were told Hong Xi had died in hospi­tal af­ter a sud­den ill­ness.

‘‘We man­aged to hide ev­ery­thing from them per­fectly,’’ Luo says. ‘‘My grand­mother was born in the 1920s and can­not read. My grand­fa­ther can, but we kept him away from the news dur­ing that en­tire time’’.

Back in Auck­land, Luo, his wife, and kids are ral­ly­ing around Luo’s mum. She’s stay­ing with them for a few months, as she strug­gles to come to terms with her hus­band of 29 years’ mur­der.

For Christ­mas they took a trip to Ro­torua, hop­ing hot pools and tran­quil lakes might soothe her.

‘‘It’s hard­est for my mother. She’s a very tra­di­tional chi­nese woman, and thinks her hus­band is the sky: if her hus­band dies, the sky falls,’’ said Luo.

‘‘It’s tough for us all, though. We know he’s passed away, but we still think about the plans and dreams we had to­gether with him.’’

We know he’s passed away, but we still think about the plans and dreams we had.’ WIL­LIAM LUO, ABOVE

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