He had moved to the UK from Guangzhou two decades ago with dreams of becoming a businessman, but turned to crime after incurring heavy debts

A Chinese national who acted as a property agent for criminal gangs in


, renting hundreds of houses to be used as brothels and cannabis farms, was jailed on Friday for seven years and four months by a court in Birmingham, the UK’s second-largest city.

Feng Xu amassed around 5,500 forged documents – including driving licences, bank statements, wage slips, utility bills and dozens of fake or fraudulent Chinese and Portuguese passports – to secure tenancy agreements on at least 446 properties, according to British police.

The 43-year-old’s crimes were on a “colossal scale”, said Judge Francis Laird, who noted that Xu had acted as an ersatz “estate agent” for criminal gangs, keeping meticulous records of all the properties he managed on a spreadsheet found on his computer.

The case at the city’s Crown Court cast a rare spotlight on the vast network of Chinese criminals operating in the UK and the sophisticated methods they use to avoid detection.
Some of the properties that were used as brothels were staffed by Chinese women who had been  trafficked and forced into prostitution, the court heard.