Life term for China’s ex-se­cu­rity chief

Sen­tenced af­ter a se­cret trial, he is the high­est of­fi­cial caught in anti­graft cam­paign.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Julie Maki­nen julie.maki­nen@la­times.com Twit­ter: @JulieMakLAT

BEI­JING — Af­ter nearly two years of in­tense spec­u­la­tion and se­cret in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties said Thurs­day that for­mer do­mes­tic se­cu­rity czar Zhou Yongkang had been sen­tenced to life in pri­son on cor­rup­tion charges af­ter a closed-door trial last month.

Zhou was handed a life term for ac­cept­ing $21.3 mil­lion in bribes, abus­ing his power and de­lib­er­ately dis­clos­ing state se­crets in a rul­ing by the Tian­jin Mu­nic­i­pal No. 1 In­ter­me­di­ate Peo­ple’s Court, ac­cord­ing to the state-run New China News Agency. Zhou was also stripped of his po­lit­i­cal rights for life and his per­sonal as­sets were con­fis­cated.

In con­trast to the high­pro­file 2013 cor­rup­tion case in­volv­ing for­mer Chongqing party sec­re­tary Bo Xi­lai, Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties had not pub­li­cized the fact that Zhou had even been put on trial.

Zhou, 72, re­tired three years ago from the Polit­buro Stand­ing Com­mit­tee, whose mem­bers have long en­joyed an in­for­mal im­mu­nity from pros­e­cu­tion, even af­ter leav­ing their posts. Zhou is the high­est-rank­ing Chi­nese of­fi­cial to be pros­e­cuted since the 1970s.

Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping is in the midst of a far-reach­ing anti­graft cam­paign and has vowed to en­snare “tigers and flies” — of­fi­cials of both high and low rank — with Zhou be­ing an ex­cep­tion­ally large “tiger.” Re­cently, though, spec­u­la­tion has grown that the cam­paign has stalled, slowed or shifted to fo­cus more on “flies.”

Though the an­ti­cor­rup­tion cam­paign has en­joyed strong public sup­port, Com­mu­nist Party lead­ers have not yet adopted in­sti­tu­tional changes, such as rules on dis­clos­ing as­sets, that might serve as curbs on graft.

Zhang Li­fan, a prom­i­nent party his­to­rian in Bei­jing, called the sen­tence a “com­pro­mise” and said it sig­naled a tem­po­rary halt to the an­ti­cor­rup­tion cam­paign as the party be­gins pre­par­ing for its next ma­jor congress in 2017.

“The an­ti­cor­rup­tion cam­paign has faced a great deal of pres­sure within the party and the lead­er­ship is in dan­ger” if it pushes things any fur­ther, Zhang said. He called the quiet end to a po­ten­tially ex­plo­sive case a “win-win” for Zhou and the party.

“Zhou Yongkang used to con­trol the key depart­ment and knows many peo­ple’s se­crets, both eco­nomic as well as per­sonal se­crets. Since he has th­ese se­crets, he was able to ne­go­ti­ate a bet­ter deal for him­self,” Zhang said. At the same time, “the party’s face is saved.”

But Clay­ton Dube, head of USC’s U.S.-China In­sti- tute, said the way the Zhou ver­dict was han­dled shows China’s party-state is still un­com­fort­able with trans­parency.

“While it has be­come more open than in the past, China’s lead­ers still pre­fer to an­nounce re­sults rather than to wel­come au­di­ences to view the pro­cesses of de­ci­sion-mak­ing,” he said. “The party-state wants to show it po­lices it­self.... But it doesn’t want to fully ex­plore wrong­do­ing for fear of sig­nal­ing how long of­fice­hold­ers get away with cor­rup­tion and how far-reach­ing it may be.”

Ac­cord­ing to the news agency, Zhou’s case was heard May 22 and was not open to the public be­cause it in­volved dis­clo­sure of state se­crets.

Zhou pleaded guilty and will not ap­peal, the agency said. In video shown on state-run CCTV, Zhou ap­peared thin­ner and sig­nif­i­cantly older, his hair, long dyed jet black in the style fa­vored by Chi­nese lead­ers, gone to­tally white.

He abused his power and de­lib­er­ately dis­closed state se­crets “in par­tic­u­larly grave cir­cum­stances” and took “par­tic­u­larly huge bribes,” a state­ment from the court said, but his ac­tion “did not have se­ri­ous con­se­quences.”

The court said Zhou in­structed two as­so­ciates to “as­sist” the busi­ness ac­tiv­i­ties of oth­ers, help­ing them to il­le­gally ob­tain about $350 mil­lion and caus­ing losses to the state of $250 mil­lion.

Zhou leaked five “ex­tremely con­fi­den­tial” doc­u­ments and one “con­fi­den­tial” doc­u­ment to an unau­tho­rized per­son iden­ti­fied as Cao Yongzheng, in vi­o­la­tion of the State Se­cret Law.

Cao has been de­scribed in some over­seas Chi­ne­se­lan­guage me­dia re­ports as a self-styled mas­ter of the Chi- nese prac­tice of qigong who claimed to be able to pre­dict the fu­ture. His en­ergy com­pany, some re­ports said, re­ceived il­licit gains through his as­so­ci­a­tions with the Zhou fam­ily.

Ac­cord­ing to the news agency, Zhou’s wife, Jia Xiaoye, and son, Zhou Bin, tes­ti­fied through video link whereas other wit­nesses ap­peared in court.

In its state­ment, the court said Zhou Yongkang had con­fessed truth­fully, pleaded guilty and re­pented.

The court said that most of the bribes were ac­cepted by Zhou’s rel­a­tives with­out his knowl­edge and that he had asked his fam­ily to re­turn the il­le­gal gains.

Be­cause “all gifts and cash have now been re­cov­ered,” the news agency re­ported, the court de­cided those ac­tions con­sti­tuted “legal and dis­cre­tionary grounds for lesser pun­ish­ment.”

The news agency quoted Zhou as say­ing, “I broke the law and party rules in­ces­santly, and the ob­jec­tive facts of my crimes have re­sulted in grave losses of the party and the na­tion.”

CCTV

ZHOU YONGKANG ac­cepted $21.3 mil­lion in bribes and leaked state se­crets, a Chi­nese court ruled.

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