China’s ex-se­cu­rity chief in­dicted for cor­rup­tion


Pros­e­cu­tors charged for­mer na­tional se­cu­rity chief Zhou Yongkang with cor­rup­tion and leak­ing of state se­crets, set­ting the stage for him to be­come the high­est-level politi­cian to stand trial in China in more than three decades.

The Supreme Peo­ple’s Procu­ra­torate an­nounced the long­ex­pected in­dict­ment on its web­site Fri­day fol­low­ing a lengthy in­ves­ti­ga­tion that also scru­ti­nized Zhou’s for­mer al­lies in gov­ern­ment and the oil in­dus­try, but gave no new sub­stan­tial de­tails of the ac­cu­sa­tions against him.

A for­mer mem­ber of the Com­mu­nist Party’s all-pow­er­ful Polit­buro Stand­ing Com­mit­tee, the dour-faced and once-feared Zhou had been un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion since late 2013, and has been un­avail­able for com­ment since then.

“An­nounc­ing t he charges against him means the be­gin­ning of the end for Zhou,” said Dali Yang, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist at the Uni­ver­sity of Chicago, re­flect­ing the widely held no­tion that Zhou’s con­vic­tion was vir­tu­ally as­sured.

Zhou, 72, is the high­est-level of­fi­cial charged as part of Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping’s anti-cor­rup­tion cam­paign that be­gan in late 2012. He would be the high­est politi­cian to face court since the 1981 trea­son trial of Mao Ze­dong’s wife and other mem­bers of the “Gang of Four” who per­se­cuted po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents dur­ing the 1966- 76 Cul­tural Revo­lu­tion.

Although the case against Zhou has been touted by state me­dia as show­ing the party’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to fight cor­rup­tion re­gard­less of one’s rank, it also has been widely per­ceived as part of fac­tional pol­i­tics in the rul­ing party’s up­per­most ech­e­lon and the re­moval of a po­ten­tial ri­val for Xi.

“Cor­rup­tion com­monly ex­ists among the party’s se­nior of­fi­cial­dom, and so it looks like Zhou is an­other ex­am­ple of be­ing the loser of a power strug­gle,” said Zhang Li­fan, a Bei­jing-based com­men­ta­tor and his­to­rian.

The charges against Zhou are not po­lit­i­cal. Still, the coun­try’s Supreme Court last month said in a re­port that Zhou and Bo Xi­lai — an­other top of­fi­cial to fall from grace in the cor­rup­tion crack­down — had both en­gaged in po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties that dam­aged the unity of the rul­ing Com­mu­nist Party. The word­ing left it un­clear wheth- er the two were be­ing ac­cused of plot­ting to­gether or separately.

Yang, the Chicago-based an­a­lyst, said the case against Zhou re­flects the Xi ad­min­is­tra­tion’s need to rid the coun­try’s vast and ju­di­cial ap­pa­ra­tus of the in­flu­ence of the for­mer se­cu­rity czar and his al­lies, as the gov­ern­ment seeks to bol­ster the le­git­i­macy of the courts.

Bribe-tak­ing, Abuse of Power

The pros­e­cu­tors said Zhou was charged with bribe-tak­ing, abuse of power and in­ten­tion­ally leak­ing state se­crets. It char­ac­ter­ized the al­le­ga­tions against him as es­pe­cially se­vere, and said he took “huge amounts” of bribes, but gave no sub­stan­tial de­tails.

It was un­clear how open Zhou’s trial would be, or when it would take place. How­ever, Bo’s trial came about a month af­ter his in­dict­ment in July 2013.

The charge of leak­ing state se­crets raised the tan­ta­liz­ing pos­si­bil­ity that the case could in­volve po­lit­i­cal in­fight­ing at the party’s high­est lev­els. As China’s se­cu­rity chief, he over­saw do­mes­tic spy agen­cies, a po­si­tion that af­forded him ac­cess to in­side in­for­ma­tion on other se­nior politi­cians who might pose a threat to him.

How­ever, that charge also likely gives au­thor­i­ties a rea­son to close the trial, or at least parts of it. The pro­ceed­ings are likely to be tightly stage-man­aged, and the peo­ple al­lowed into the court­room strictly vet­ted.

“It’s safe to say, ev­ery­one in­side the court, in­clud­ing the mem­bers of the public and the lawyers, will be trusted by the party,” said Si Wei­jiang, a prom­i­nent Shang­haibased rights lawyer.

Zhang, the his­to­rian, said he ex­pected Zhou to re­ceive an even harsher sen­tence than the life im­pris­on­ment given to Bo, mean­ing the for­mer se­cu­rity chief could face a suspended death sen­tence or even ex­e­cu­tion.

Zhou was once seen as un­touch­able, with a vast pa­tron­age net­work cov­er­ing the south­west­ern prov­ince of Sichuan where he used to be party boss to the state oil sec­tor, po­lice and courts.

He spent the early part of his ca­reer in the oil in­dus­try, ris­ing through the ranks over sev­eral decades to be­come the gen­eral manager of China Na­tional Petroleum Corp., one of the world’s big­gest en­ergy com­pa­nies, in 1996.

A se­ries of se­nior fig­ures from the state-owned oil in­dus­try have been de­tained in the anti-cor­rup­tion crack­down.

Last month, Jiang Jiemin, the for­mer chair­man of the state­downed par­ent of PetroChina Ltd., Asia’s big­gest oil pro­ducer, was in­dicted on bribery charges. Jiang is be­lieved to have been an as­so­ciate of Zhou, though pros­e­cu­tors have not cited any link be­tween the two cases.

The charges against Zhou were lodged by pros­e­cu­tors in the north­east­ern port of Tian­jin, which means that Zhou will be tried there, about 120 kilo­me­ters (74 miles) southeast of Bei­jing.

Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties typ­i­cally hold tri­als of se­nior of­fi­cials away from their power bases to min­i­mize the pos­si­bil­ity of in­ter­fer­ence with the ju­di­ciary.

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