Chinese ex-leader Zhou Yongkang charged with corruption

Former Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang image

The former all-powerful head of China’s secret police, Zhou Yongkang, has been expelled from the ruling Communist party and accused of leaking state secrets, taking bribes and fornication, becoming the most senior official felled by President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption drive.

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The move, announced by China’s state-owned media on Friday, underscored President Xi’s willingness to press ahead with a purge of “tigers” and “flies” that has ensnared hundreds of thousands of officials, executives at state-owned firms and businessmen.

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It was the first time he has acted against a former member of China’s Politburo Standing Committee, which in effect rules China.

Mr Zhou was formally placed under investigation this summer. Sometimes referred to as the “Dick Cheney of China”, Mr Zhou was the most feared of China’s top leaders because of his position as head of the internal security services, the police and the courts, and his connections in the state-owned energy sector.

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A bona fide “tiger” with allies throughout the provinces, energy firms and security apparatus, Mr Zhou had backed a bid for power by Mr Xi’s rival, the charismatic populist Bo Xilai, another senior leader jailed for corruption.

“What Zhou Yongkang did entirely violated the party’s nature and purpose, severely violated the party line, and damaged the party image, causing great losses for the party and people. His influence is extremely odious,” the People’s Daily said in an editorial.

Although he has been under investigation since earlier this year, the fate of Mr Zhou had been uncertain amid tensions in the upper echelons of the party about a corruption drive that is seen as a way of consolidating President Xi’s power.

But Mr Zhou’s expulsion from the party — and accompanying charges of fornication as well as corruption — implies that remaining support for him has crumbled, perhaps under the onslaught of investigations into prominent military figures as well as provincial officials linked to powerful former leaders.

The FT earlier reported that former top leaders Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao had expressed discomfort with the extent of the purge.

Many party elders believe that Mr Xi has set a dangerous precedent by violating the taboo against investigating retired members of the Politburo Standing Committee, the most powerful body in China. A gentleman’s agreement that they could retire in peace has helped ensure relatively peaceful transitions of power in China in recent years.

Mr Zhou is accused of leaking “party and state secrets”, taking bribes directly or through his family, abusing his power to the benefit of his family, mistresses and friends and “fornication with many women”.

The procedural step means that Mr Zhou can now be tried in a criminal court. Communist party internal procedures take precedence over law in China.

The announcement was made in a co-ordinated release by all major state-controlled news portals at midnight on Friday. It came just after the country’s inaugural “Constitution Day”, honouring rule through legal means.

Additional reporting by Gu Yu

Henry Sapiecha

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