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

This US Epidemic Keeps Getting Worse

One in 4 Americans suffers from this condition More

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends 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.
Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thoughti
X
George Putic
May 26, 2015 9:26 PM
Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.

VOA Blogs