Missing wife killer gets 22 years
1:54pm Tuesday 7th January 2014 in © Press Association 2014
A multi-millionaire has been jailed for life after murdering his pregnant wife - even though her body has never been found.
Robert Ekaireb, 39, was found guilty last month of killing his wife, Lihau Cao, following a row about her previous work as a lap dancer in October 2006.
Police say they will never find out exactly how the 27-year-old died, or find her remains.
Old Bailey judge Nicholas Cooke described property entrepreneur Ekaireb, of Hendon in north London, as "a callous, manipulative and selfish hypocrite".
Ekaireb will serve 22 years - less the 209 days spent in custody - before being considered for release.
The trial had heard Ekaireb lived in Hampstead with his wife who worked as a waitress and dancer in London's Chinatown.
The couple had met while Miss Cao, who took the anglicised name Lisa, was living in Dublin and working as a lap dancer - a career that defence counsel Michael Skelley said "tormented" Ekaireb.
After a whirlwind romance, the couple married in 2006 - three months before she was killed, the trial heard.
But members of the victim's family in her native China became suspicious when they did not hear from her and they reported her missing in February 2007. A jury found Ekaireb guilty of murder last month.
Sentencing today, Judge Cooke recalled evidence that the victim was 19 weeks pregnant at the time she was killed.
He said: "This was the murder of a pregnant wife - in that sense you ended two lives.
"I accept that this is a case of no evidence of pre-meditation. It was also a case of extreme domestic violence.
"The evidence is this case exposed you as a callous, manipulative and selfish hypocrite."
Met Police Detective Inspector Andy Manning, who worked on the international investigation, said Ekaireb "lost control" and killed his wife, before disposing of the body, clearing up and attempting to carry on with his life.
He said: "We will never know how Lihau died or what happened to her body which is a tragedy for her family and her unborn child.
"Despite this, the jury has found overwhelming evidence that Ekaireb killed his wife and it is satisfying seven years after her disappearance to reach this conviction today and provide some answers to Lihau's family.
"Lihau clearly wasn't happy in her marriage - Ekaireb was controlling, restricted her access to money despite his immense wealth and often lost his temper. She had spoken to friends and family about leaving him and there is evidence she was preparing to do so for good.
"Detectives continued to work tirelessly to piece together the key events of the last few months of Lihau's life to provide indisputable evidence that Ekaireb had killed her."
The victim's brother, Li Bin Cao, was in court for the verdict but declined to comment after sentencing.
In his witness statement, on behalf of his family, he told the court of the anguish which had overcome them since learning of his sister's disappearance.
He said: "It was very hard to grasp and we are struggling to accept the fact that our beloved Lihau is gone forever.
"We will never understand why he (Ekaireb) killed Lihau. She was a social, loving, warm person.
"We will never see her alive again, and even in her death she is missing.
"We don't know how to move on with our lives with no Lihau to bury."
The court heard that the death had had a particularly profound effect on the victim's mother in China, while the family were so fearful of what the news would do to the health of her grandfather that he is yet to be told.
The judge said: "When there is no body, the bereaved will suffer agonies of false hope.
"They are left, potentially permanently, without the ability to grieve in the way the family of those with the body returned to them can grieve."
Mr Skelley said Ekaireb had a long-term partner, a two-year-old child with another baby on the way, and described the death as a double tragedy.
The defendant, described by the judge as being of "considerable wealth", was told to pay costs of £120,815.05.