China is appointing an official who was involved in the worst corruption case in Chinese Communist history as head of the advisory body to its legislature. The official is a close ally of retiring President Jiang Zemin, who many believe insulated him from graft allegations.
Delegates to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference named Jia Qinglin as their new head Thursday, replacing the reformist Li Ruihuan. In recent years, the conference has become more important as an advisory body to China's legislature, the National People's Congress, which is now under way in Beijing.
Mr. Jia was Communist party chief of the southeastern coastal province, Fujian, in the 1990's, during the worst graft scandal in more than 50 years of Communist rule.
The case revolved around the Yuanhua company, which state media says smuggled more than $6 billion in luxury goods, cars and oil through customs. The scandal implicated several senior government officials, some of whom were executed. Hundreds of others were arrested.
But the corruption scandal left Mr. Jia unscathed. Observers widely believe that his patron, President Jiang Zemin, protected Mr. Jia from investigation. Jean-Pierre Cabestan is head of the French Center for Research on Contemporary China in Hong Kong. "He has been very highly suspected of being involved in the Yuanhua smuggling case in Fujian when he was number one in Fujian Province," he said. "He's very well protected by Jiang and as long as Jiang is around, he won't have any trouble."
Mr. Jiang transferred his protégé Mr. Jia to Beijing in the late 1990s. At last November's party congress, Mr. Jia was promoted to the elite Standing Committee of the Communist Party Politburo, effectively becoming one of the nine most powerful people in China.