China former security chief charged with bribery, abuse of power

China's former security chief, Zhou Yongkang, delivers a speech at a meeting in Beijing, on 18 May 2012.

China's former security chief, Zhou Yongkang, delivers a speech at a meeting in Beijing, on 18 May 2012. File photo/AFP/Getty Images


BEIJING, China, 3 April 2015

China’s former security chief Zhou Yongkang was charged on Friday with bribery, abuse of power and disclosing state secrets, authorities said, making him the most senior official prosecuted in decades and setting the stage for a dramatic trial.

Zhou is the most prominent victim of President Xi Jinping’s much-publicised anti-corruption drive, which has targeted high-level “tigers” as well as low-level “flies”.

He had a background in the oil industry and accumulated vast power as he rose through the ranks to become a member of the Communist Party’s elite Politburo Standing Committee (PSC), the most powerful body in China.

“The defendant Zhou Yongkang… took advantage of his posts to seek gains for others and illegally took huge property and assets from others, abused his power, causing huge losses to public property and the interests of the State and the people,” said the indictment, posted online by prosecutors.

“The social impact is vile and the circumstances were extraordinarily severe,” it said, adding that he also “intentionally leaked state secrets”.

The document was filed with a court in the northern port of Tianjin, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate added.

Chinese courts are closely controlled by the ruling party and a guilty verdict is a certainty.

Days after his arrest, the Communist Party’s flagship People’s Daily newspaper branded Zhou a “traitor” and likened him to several past turncoats who were all executed — setting off speculation that Zhou himself could face a similar fate, despite a longstanding principle that PSC members are immune from retribution after their retirement.

The proceedings will be the most significant in China since the infamous Gang of Four — which included Mao Zedong’s widow Jiang Qing — were put on trial and blamed for the chaos of the Cultural Revolution.

It will also be the first time Zhou has been seen in public since October 2013.

Officials have promised that the hearings will be open in accordance with Chinese law, but attendance at previous high-profile cases has been closely controlled.

When former high-flyer Bo Xilai — brought down after a scandal around the killing of a British businessman — was prosecuted for bribery, non-official media were limited to a “live” written transcript of events, whose accuracy was impossible to verify independently.

Zhou’s fall sent shockwaves through the ruling party. After months of rumours, party authorities announced last July they were investigating him, and he was expelled from the party and formally arrested in December.

He had retired in 2012 as part of a once-a-decade leadership handover, but senior Chinese politicians normally remain significant players even after officially stepping down.

Consolidation of power

Communist authorities have touted the anti-corruption drive as a root-and-branch reform of the party over an issue that causes deep and widespread public anger.

But critics note that China has failed to implement institutional safeguards against graft, such as public asset disclosure, an independent judiciary, and free media, leaving the effort at risk of being used for political faction-fighting.

The Communist party is riven by factional divisions but consistently seeks to present a united front to outsiders.

Several of Zhou’s allies have also been brought down in the campaign, among them Jiang Jiemin, the former head of the body that regulates China’s state-owned firms.

He is a former head of the China National Petroleum Corporation, a post previously held by Zhou, and the two are reportedly part of a Communist Party faction with roots in the oil industry, known as the “petroleum gang”.

In January, the state-run China Daily newspaper reported that Bo and Zhou had held secret meetings and formed a “clique” seeking to challenge China’s leaders.

The article, which cited a lengthy report in Hong Kong’s Phoenix Weekly magazine, appeared to be the first time that mainland media reported allegations of an alliance between the two once-powerful men.

Weeks earlier the ruling party’s Central Committee issued a statement warning that it would have “zero tolerance toward cliques and factions”.

Xi has consolidated enormous power since taking office in 2012. On Friday the government-run China Daily newspaper ran a front-page story on a new mobile app featuring his books and speeches.

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