20 October 2018
According to an estimate, 4,000 officials fled China between 1978 and 2003 with at least US$50 billion in ill-gotten gains. Photo: Bloomberg
According to an estimate, 4,000 officials fled China between 1978 and 2003 with at least US$50 billion in ill-gotten gains. Photo: Bloomberg

Behind every corrupt official is a corrupt family

In September 2012, over 400 spouses of government officials attended a lecture on corruption held by the commission for disciplinary inspection in Guangdong province.

“A good wife should stay rational and keep her husband away from dirty money,” they were told. They were also warned that corruption goes hand in hand with mistresses and marriage crises.

Clearly, the ladies missed the point.

Over the weekend, state-run news agency Xinhua reported that roughly 1,000 government officials in Guangdong had been demoted or forced to resign after being identified as having spouses with permanent residency or citizenship abroad while they themselves continue to work on the mainland.

The move signals a new approach in President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign that takes aim at a phenomenon in Chinese politics that has hindered the Communist Party’s efforts to curb the flight of crooked officials and their ill-gotten assets, Associated Press noted.

“The perception among the Chinese public is that these officials use their positions for their personal gains, then they send their families away and when the time comes, they are going to bail,” Dali Yang, a China expert at the University of Chicago, told AP.

Dubbed “naked officials” because they remain in China without their families, these civil servants move money and family abroad as a precursor to officials’ own flight.

The “naked official” phenomenon has become synonymous with corruption in China, as people ask how officials on meager government salaries can afford to support their family members overseas, notes Financial Times.

A report by the Ministry of Commerce cited in the English-language China Daily showed 4,000 corrupt officials had fled the country with at least US$50 billion between 1978 and 2003, noted CNN.

In the San Gabriel Valley, a suburb about 12 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, it’s hard not to notice Chinese men that might fit the description.

The tan middle-aged Chinese man in shorts, Hawaiian shirt and flip-flops watering his lawn, definitely not. But the Chinese guy that rarely ventures out from behind the closed gates of a sprawling estate with a massive house that’s at least 15,000 square feet, yeah, maybe. The black Audi A6 with smoked out windows parked in the circle driveway makes me think twice.

There are also too many husbandless and monied wives and children to count—all who could potentially be families of “naked officials.”

Many top party members, including President Xi Jinping and Bo Xilai, the disgraced former Chongqing boss, have sent their children to study abroad, sparking popular resentment. Xi’s daughter is currently enrolled at Harvard University, with Bo’s son at Columbia University Law School.

In the latest move in China’s anti-corruption campaign, an unnamed official source told Xinhua that 866 of the implicated Guangdong officials have been removed from their posts, including nine at a mayoral level. Another 200 have asked their families to return to China, in exchange for keeping their posts.

According to CNN, one of the first to lose their position from the crackdown is Fang Xuan, the deputy chief of the Guangzhou Party Committee. The names of other implicated Guangdong officials were not released.

Since Xi was appointed to the helm of the Communist Party in late 2012, he has vowed to purify the party’s ranks with an austerity drive and a crackdown on graft that targets both lower-ranking officials and senior leaders, said AP.

Critics say the war on corruption is just Xi’s excuse for removing political opponents.

Programs to educate spouses, like the one in Guangdong in 2012, have met with little support.

“We did not see any obvious results after the lectures. It’s hard to get rid of the temptation of luxury, and it’s even harder to make someone’s relatives betray them,” said an official.

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A strategist and marketing consultant on China business

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