President Xi Jinping's crackdown on corruption has claimed the most senior victim yet with the arrest of former security chief Zhou Yongkang for a number of suspected crimes. Zhou was also expelled from the ruling Communist Party.
The Political Bureau of the Communist Party's Central Committee expelled Zhou after studying an investigative report. Events leading up to the report are wrapped in secrecy. Zhou simply disappeared from public view some time ago. Zhou was under investigation for "severe disciplinary violations" a euphemistic phrase that often means "corruption." The Chinese news agency Xinhua says of Zhou:
"He abused his power to help relatives, mistresses and friends make huge profits from operating businesses, resulting in serious losses of state-owned assets."
Zhou had been a key figure in China's petroleum industry. He was also a close ally of Bo Xilai, the former powerful politician who was sentenced to life in prison last year. His sensational corruption trial exposed intrigue and lavish lifestyles within a corrupt party elite.
The investigative report on Zhou claimed that he had leaked both party and state secrets and went on:
"He seriously violated self-disciplinary regulations and accepted a large amount of money and properties personally and through his family. Zhou committed adultery with a number of women and traded his power for sex and money."
State media applauded the arrest of Zhou and touted it as a sign that President Xi was intent on rooting out corruption even within officialdom. Zhou retired in November 2012 at the same party congress that appointed Xi as party leader. The People's Daily also praised the move against Zhou:
“Corruption is a cancer that has invaded the party’s healthy tissue. We must use investigating and dealing with Zhou Yongkang’s grave violations to thoroughly advance the struggle against corruption.”
Ironically Zhou has become the victim of changes to Chinese law that put courts, prosecutors and police under firm party control. As lawyer Li Xialin who has represented officials on corruption charges put it:
“We lawyers all believe that he took rule of law in China backwards at least a decade. Now he’s become a victim of the lack of rule of law, because his case is also being dealt with by the legal system that he himself built with his own hands.”The anti-corruption campaign depends upon a legal system that is itself part of the problem in China.
Very few who are charged ever are found innocent: guilty verdicts are rarely in doubt. Of the 8,110 officials who received court verdicts on bribery and graft charges in the first half of this year, 99.8 percent were convicted, according to government figures. That is, only 14 of the defendants were cleared of charges.
Defendants claim to be tortured and otherwise mistreated as in the case of this mid-level official in Fujian Province:
He was starved, pummeled and interrogated for days on end in an ice-cold room where sleeping, sitting or even leaning against a wall were forbidden. One beating left Wang Guanglong, a midlevel official from China’s Fujian Province, partly deaf, according to his later testimony. Suicide, he told relatives and his lawyers afterward, tempted him.In the end, he said, he took a deal: He signed a confession acknowledging he had accepted $27,000 in bribes, wrongly believing he would be released on bail and able to clear his name of a crime he says he did not commit.Instead he was sentenced to 10 years mostly on the basis of his confession.
Perhaps Willem van Kemenade sums up the situation in an Al Jazeera article:
Corruption in China is omnipresent, and it runs from top to bottom, or in Xi's words, from "tiger to fly". After the egalitarianism and violent political upheavals of the Mao era, former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping put China on a course to economic modernisation, dubbing it a "socialist market economy". But this was just a euphemism for lawless state-controlled capitalism under an authoritarian one-party state. It produced 35 years of high economic growth without checks and balances, creating a free-for-all kleptocracy.