Zhong Yuan, a 28-year-old driver for Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi, has pleaded guilty to the murder and rape of a female passenger in August last year, according to Beijing Youth Daily (in Chinese).

Zhong appeared in court in the eastern Chinese city of Wenzhou on Jan. 4. The trial was not open to the public and the court has yet to say when its decision will be made public.

The victim, a 20-year-old woman surnamed Zhao, went missing in Wenzhou’s Yueqing County in late August 2018, after hailing a ride on Didi’s Hitch. A friend reported to local authorities that she sent her a message pleading for help. Zhao’s body was found in a mountainous area nearby, and Zhong was arrested by police, later admitting his involvement in the crime.

When contacted by TechNode, a representative from Didi refused to comment on the case.

Last year, two high-profile murders by Didi drivers caused a nationwide outcry. Government officials also launched a series of investigations into the company’s safety mechanisms. The firm was found to have “serious safety hazards” in its carpooling business Hitch—the platform that the drivers allegedly used to target their victims.

In a separate case, a 21-year-old flight attendant Li Mingzhu was raped and killed in May 2018 after she booked a ride through Didi’s Hitch service. Li booked the trip at Zhengzhou Airport in China’s central Henan province. After the crime, the suspect, Liu Zhenhua, abandoned his vehicle and drowned himself in a river, according to police.

The company has since started to remove non-compliant drivers and vehicles from its platform and restructured to focus on improving passenger safety and promoting compliance.

According to court documents, Zhong was charged with rape and homicide. Prosecutors said he robbed Zhao to pay back gambling debts he had accumulated after lending money from online peer-to-peer loan platforms. Zhong also pleaded guilty to threatening another female passenger during an earlier ride. The passenger had filed a complaint with Didi.

Jill Shen is Shanghai-based technology reporter. She covers Chinese mobility, autonomous vehicles, and electric cars. Connect with her via e-mail: jill.shen@technode.com or Twitter: @yushan_shen

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