Friday, 3 April 2015

Catching a Tiger

Zhou Yongkang was finally formally criminally charged today in Tianjin
After waiting for months, the big news out of China today was former security czar Zhou Yongkang being formally charged with corruption, abuse of power, and intentionally leaking state secrets.

The charges were laid by prosecutors in Tianjin, signally the Supreme People's Procuratorate has finished its investigation and that the case will be heard there.

Zhou has been accused of taking bribes during his tenures as the vice general manager of state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation, provincial Communist Party chief in Sichuan, head of the Ministry of Public Security, and as chief of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission.

"[Zhou's] abuse of power has led to great losses of public funds and has done severe damage to national and public interests, causing adverse social impact," the Supreme People's Procuratorate said in a statement.

There were no further details about the allegations Zhou had intentionally leaked state secrets.

It was last July that the authorities announced Zhou was under investigation for alleged abuse of power and corruption which was a big bombshell, and ever since, China watchers have been waiting for the next phase.

Ling Jihua tried to protect himself by covering up son's death
This is the first time in decades that the Communist Party of China has broken its convention of not prosecuting retired leaders for alleged wrongdoing.

He was a former member of the then nine-man Politburo Standing Committee, the group of top leaders who run China, and he oversaw the state's security system, including police and courts. Zhou retired in 2012.

Since he was expelled from the CPC in December, state media began piling on hints of his criminal prosecution, that he was also alleged to have "exchanged power and money for sex", and even People's Daily described Zhou as a "traitor" to the party.

The Supreme People's Court's annual work report released last month said Zhou had "undermined the party's solidarity and engaged in political activities [not approved by the authorities]", a rare accusation that some analysts suggest indicates that Zhou might also face charges for political offenses.

Bo Xilai was an ally of Zhou's and is now in prison for life
There has been a tightening of the circle around Zhou for a while, with many of his associates detained for alleged graft. One of them is probably Ling Jihua, who tried to cover up his 23-year-old son's death when his Ferrari crashed into a pillar on Beijing's 4th Ring Road back in 2012. Zhou was the one who tried to help Ling senior stop local police from investigating the incident.

Another Zhou associate, Jiang Jiemin, who was then chief executive of China National Petroleum Corporation, was also involved in the cover up, paying millions of dollars to the two victims' families to keep quiet about the crash.

Fallen leader Bo Xilai was also affiliated with Zhou, who tried to support the former party chief of Chongqing to the end. But it was too late and Bo is now serving a life sentence. There were also allegations that Zhou attempted a "coup d'etat" which may be brought up later in the trial.

There is no court date set yet, but at least for now the stage is set for a showdown between the state and Zhou in the court room.

The BBC tried to ask people on the street in Shanghai what they thought of the motivations behind Zhou being charged, but no one would dare speculate. They probably know, but don't want to tell a western reporter what appears to be a political system that's rotten to the core.

Will Zhou's legal charges result in the end of the purges in the senior ranks of the party? It's hard to say but it demonstrates how much rot there is in the system, but also how determined the party is to get rid of it...

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