19 August 2019
Former state security chief Zhou Yongkang attends his sentence hearing in a court in Tianjin. Photo: Reuters/CCTV
Former state security chief Zhou Yongkang attends his sentence hearing in a court in Tianjin. Photo: Reuters/CCTV

Former security chief Zhou Yongkang sentenced to life in prison

Zhou Yongkang, the biggest “tiger” so far in Chinese President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign, has been defanged and put away—for life.

On Thursday a court sentenced the former state security czar to life in prison after he was found guilty at a secret trial of bribery, leaking state secrets and abuse of power, state media reported.

Zhou, 72, is the highest ranking and most powerful former Communist Party leader to be sentenced to prison since Mao Zedong’s wife and the rest of the Gang of Four in 1976, the Wall Street Journal said.

The trial was held in secret for state security reasons, state media said. But the newspaper said the process was intended to sidestep risky political outcomes.

During the sentencing, Zhou was shown on China Central Television bowing to the bench, still wearing his signature scowl but his black hair now all white.

“I accept the verdict made by the court to me,” he was quoted as saying by the Journal, which said he appeared to be reading from notes. “I won’t appeal.”

It was his first public appearance and comments in 21 months.

Zhou’s conviction bolsters Xi’s image as the most powerful Chinese leader since Deng Xiaoping.

It also quells doubts about his pledge to go after both “tigers” and “flies” — from the most powerful officials to minor bureaucrats — in his campaign to fight corruption, which he says is the biggest threat to the survival of the Communist Party.

Zhou, aside from being the former domestic security chief, is a former member of the Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee — the most powerful group that runs the country.

The Tianjin Municipal No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court said Zhou took 130 million yuan (US$21.3 million) in bribes, while his actions helped enrich associates from the oil industry and members of his family, including a wife and son who accumulated assets topping US$300 million.

Zhou was deprived of his political rights for life and had his personal assets confiscated, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. 

Zhou potentially faced the death sentence for his economic crimes, the WSJ said.

The court noted that Zhou had taken “particularly huge bribes”, but had confessed, pleaded guilty and repented his wrongdoing, Xinhua said.

The majority of the money was accepted by his relatives, without his prior knowledge, it said.

Zhou also asked his relatives to return their illegal gains. All gifts and cash have now been recovered.

These actions constitute “legal and discretionary grounds for lesser punishment”, Xinhua said, citing the court statement.

The court also said Zhou’s abuse of power and deliberate disclosure of state secrets were “particularly grave”, but his disclosure of state secrets “did not have very serious consequences”.

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