Life term for China’s ex-security chief
Sentenced after a secret trial, he is the highest official caught in antigraft campaign.
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.”
ZHOU YONGKANG accepted $21.3 million in bribes and leaked state secrets, a Chinese court ruled.