News / Asia

China Corruption Case Against Zhou Yongkang Exposes Scale of Graft

Then China's Public Security Minister Zhou Yongkang reacts as he attends the Hebei delegation discussion sessions at the 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China at the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing October 16, 2007
Then China's Public Security Minister Zhou Yongkang reacts as he attends the Hebei delegation discussion sessions at the 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China at the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing October 16, 2007
In a case that could have wide-ranging implications for the future of China’s leadership the administration of Chinese President Xi Jingping continues to tighten its corruption investigation around former Chinese domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang and his inner circle.
 
Beijing’s latest move is the seizure of some $14.5 billion in assets from Zhou’s family members and close associates, along with the arrest or questioning of more than 300 of them.
 
The staggering sum seized is said to larger than any other corruption related action yet taken by Beijing.
 
Zhou is the highest ranking former Chinese official caught up in President Xi’s anti-corruption crackdown. He has been under house arrest since late 2013, and multiple reports indicate that formal charges against him may be brought up in coming weeks.
 
One of the most recent officials allied with Zhou caught up in this probe is Ji Wenlin, just removed as vice governor of Hainan province.
 
Ji held several positions connected to Zhou. During the late 1990’s, he served as a land resources minister and then as an assistant to Zhou when he was the Communist Party’s boss of Sichuan.
 
While Zhou and others have not faced court proceedings, Chinese law and due process allows for the seizure of their assets.
 
“Article 117 of the Criminal Procedure Law states that “The People’s Procuratorates and the public security organs, may, as required by investigation crimes, inquire into or freeze criminal suspects’ deposits or remittances according to regulations,” said Georgetown University law professor James Feinerman, an expert in China’s legal structure.
 
The Chinese law is close to what is on the books in the United States
 
“There are procedures under U.S. law which provide for the freezing or seizure of assets prior to criminal conviction,” said former U.S. Department of Justice official Nathaniel Edmonds. “Typically, there needs to be a relation [between the seized assets] to a specified unlawful activity which could include corruption or fraud.”
 
In China, Edmonds said the “vast majority” of corruption cases are conducted by the Ministry of Supervision.
 
But Asia Fellow Edward Schwarck, with the London-based research organization Royal United Services Institute, said other forces are in play.
 
“The corruption investigation into Zhou Yongkang,” he said, “is being conducted by a specially created unit led by Beijing’s police chief, Fu Zhenghua – who is a known ally of Xi Jingping.”
 
Schwarck said that “party members detained for corruption are usually held under a form of extra-legal detention known as shuanggui.”
 
He said shuanggui is “separate from standard law enforcement procedure in that detainees can be stripped of their rights and assets and locked up indefinitely.”
 
While much attention and energy is being poured into investigating Zhou and his inner circle, Feinerman said that “There are many others (such as former Premier Wen Jibao) who have never been targeted, but may be equally or more corrupt. Corruption prosecutions are very selective.”
 
“There is a Chinese proverb about ‘killing the chicken to scare the monkeys,’ which suggests that scapegoating one of many may send a signal to others to clean up their acts,” said Feinerman .
 
Many observers have framed the corruption crackdown on Zhou and those surrounding him in a political context – arguing that the former security boss was targeted because of his support of opponents to  Xi, especially Bo Xilai, who was convicted for corruption and sent to jail for life.
 
Analyst Schwarck says there is more to it than that.
 
“The campaign against him [Zhou] also stems from a wider effort by Mr. Xi to eliminate powerful interest groups within China’s state owned enterprises, which are key opponents of the [president’s] economic reform agenda.” Schwarck said. “Given Zhou’s former role as ‘Godfather’ of China’s ‘Big Oil,’ he has been left vulnerable on this front as well.”
 
Former Chinese President Jiang Zemin has called on Xi to ease up on his anti-corruption drive.
 
Feinerman said “If there is a concern at the top that no one wants to do to Zhou what might come back to haunt them should they fall out of favor, then they might be unwilling to make a huge deal about Zhou himself.”
 
Analyst Schwarck said “Purging Zhou would be an affront to the longstanding consensus in the Communist Party that senior leaders are ‘off limits.’”
 
He predicts that “Zhou’s trial could be quite destabilizing, in that other senior party members may begin to question their allegiance to a system that no longer guarantees their security.”

Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly attributed quotes by Edward Schwarck to Nathaniel Edmonds. VOA regrets the error.

Jeffrey Young

Jeffrey Young came to the “Corruption” beat after years of doing news analysis, primarily on global strategic issues such as nuclear proliferation.  During most of 2013, he was on special assignment in Baghdad and elsewhere with the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR).  Previous VOA activities include VOA-TV, where he created the “How America Works” and “How America Elects” series, and the “Focus” news analysis unit.

You May Like

Hong Kong Democracy Calls Spread to Macau

Macau and Hong Kong are China’s two 'special administrative regions' which gives them a measure of autonomy More

After Nearly 2 Years, Pistorius Remains Elusive

Reporter Anita Powell reflects on her experience covering the Olympic athlete's murder trial More

Kenyan Coastal Town Struggles With Deadly June Attacks

Three months after al-Shabab militants allegedly attacked their town, some Mpeketoni residents are still bitter, question who was really behind the assaults More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: PFL
April 10, 2014 10:24 AM
Political maneuvers such as this are prevalent in the West as well. In either form, it is a positive step towards defeating corruption and returning public money back to the state. The big western corporations have massive influence over western politics and state owned enterprises in China have similar relationships. The intimidation of such high profile cases are already having a positive effect as public officials at all levels are reducing their corrupt activities. I am seeing this from the ground right now.


by: Davis K. Thanjan from: New York
April 07, 2014 12:03 PM
Most of the corruption trials in China are politically motivated and against political opponents. Yet, these corruption charges appear to be genuine and hence good for the country. It is a warning to all corrupt politicians and government officials.

In Response

by: Kokine from: New York
April 08, 2014 4:50 AM
absolutely,it's not just a trial, it's a political sentence, which means Zhou has been totally defeated in China's politics jungle.

In Response

by: Ghormax from: HK
April 08, 2014 3:27 AM
It is actually nearly impossible to not corrupt in China. You can only reach the top if you engage in some forms. Also, you need to make allies and satisfy your family, giving you huge pressure to be corrupt.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Obama to Ramp Up Anti-Ebola Efforts in Africai
X
Luis Ramirez
September 15, 2014 11:01 PM
President Barack Obama on Tuesday will unveil his plan to ramp up efforts against the spread of the Ebola virus in Africa. VOA White House Correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Obama to Ramp Up Anti-Ebola Efforts in Africa

President Barack Obama on Tuesday will unveil his plan to ramp up efforts against the spread of the Ebola virus in Africa. VOA White House Correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Americans' Reaction Mixed on Obama Strategy for Islamic State Militants

President Barack Obama’s televised speech on how the United States plans to “degrade and destroy” the group known as the Islamic State reached a prime-time audience of millions. And it came as Americans appear more willing to embrace a bolder, tougher approach to foreign policy. VOA producer Katherine Gypson and reporter Jeff Seldin have this report from Washington.
Video

Video Authorities Allege LA Fashion Industry-Cartel Ties

U.S. officials say they have broken up crime rings that funneled tens of millions of dollars from Mexican drug cartels through fashion businesses in Los Angeles. Mike O'Sullivan reports that authorities announced nine arrests, as 1,000 law enforcement agents fanned out through the city on Wednesday.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid