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China's Ex-Security Chief Sentenced to Life in Prison

Zhou Yongkang, China's former domestic security chief, attends his sentence hearing in a court in Tianjin, China, in this still image taken from video provided by China Central Television and shot on June 11, 2015.

Chinese state media say former security chief Zhou Yongkang has been sentenced to life in prison following a secret trial. According to the Xinhua news agency, Tianjin’s Intermediate People’s Court found Zhou guilty of corruption, abuse of power and disclosing state secrets.

Zhou has not been seen in public since October 2013 and was not formally charged until April of this year. The Xinhua news agency said the trial took place on May 22 and that Zhou admitted his guilt. It also said that he does not plan to appeal the ruling.

There was no public access to the trial and the ruling took many by surprise. Although many expected the state secrets portion of the trial to be held behind closed doors, few thought the entire proceeding would be so closely guarded.

Even so, state media said the hearing was conducted in a “civilized manner” and highlights the progress that China’s judicial system has made.

China Corruption - Zhou Yongkang

Zhou Yongkang

  • Dec. 1942: Born in Wu Xi city Jiangsu Province
  • Nov. 1964: Became a member of the Communist party
  • March 1998: Became party secretary of China National Petroleum Corporation
  • 1999: Appointed Sichuan's party secretary
  • 2002: Appointed member of the Politburo at the 16th Party Congress and became minister of public security
  • 2007: Joined the Standing Committee of the Politburo
  • 2012: Political ally Bo Xilai was removed from office; other political allies were investigated and/or fired
  • No. 2012: Retired
  • Dec. 2013: His son Zhou Bin was arrested on charges of corruption
  • Dec. 2014: Arrested and the Communist party expelled him

A CCTV report said Zhou had ample opportunity during the trial to defend himself and raise questions about the evidence that was presented.

What state media did not say, however, is that Zhou’s investigation - like all others under President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption drive - was first carried out by the Communist Party and then handed over to the courts.

Although details of the trial released by the state media provided some information about Zhou’s crimes, they shed little light on the massive network he had allegedly built up over his years at the helm of China’s oil industry and in powerful state and party positions.

Zhou was once one of China’s most powerful political figures. He was a former security chief and before his retirement in 2012, and a member of China’s top-level decision making politburo standing committee. He is the highest-ranking official yet to be taken down in President Xi’s massive anti-corruption drive.

According to Xinhua, witnesses in the trial accused Zhou of using his position to personally receive bribes in excess of $100,000. His wife and son accepted more than $20 million in money and property, and Zhou was told about the bribes after the fact, the report said.

According to a final statement in the trial released by state media Zhou said “The basic facts are clear. I plead guilty and repent of wrongdoing.”

Xinhua also quoted Zhou as saying “Those involved who bribed my family, were actually coming after the power I held and I should take the main responsibility.”