China’s former security chief Zhou Yongkang will face a closed-door trial after formal charges are filed against him for leaking state secrets.
Zhou has been expelled from the ruling party, the official Xinhua News Agency reported in the early hours of Saturday, citing a party statement. The decision makes him the most senior Chinese official to face charges of corruption since the communists took power in 1949.
An investigation found that Zhou “seriously violated the party’s political, organizational and confidentiality discipline”, the report said.
Zhou abused his powers to help his friends make profits, accepted “huge bribes” personally and through his family, had multiple adulterous relationships, and traded favors and money for sex, it said.
Zhou’s expulsion indicates that President Xi Jinping has strengthened his grip on power, overcoming resistance from some factions within the leadership who were seen as unhappy that he was ending an unwritten code of immunity for former top leaders, Bloomberg News said.
Xi is using Zhou as the highest-profile “tiger” netted in his two-year anti-graft campaign that he says is essential to keep the party’s legitimacy, Bloomberg added.
The Xinhua report did not provide details of the “state and party secrets” Zhou allegedly leaked. But Zhou, as one of the party’s nine-member standing committee before his retirement in 2012, had access to practically every information, including the most sensitive ones, available to the ruling elite.
Zhou also commanded China’s massive domestic security apparatus, including public security, courts, prosecution and spy services, from 2007 to 2012.
China’s criminal code prescribes that a suspect shall not be tried publicly if the case involves state secrets, according to Bloomberg.
“The Zhou case may be publicly billed as the biggest anti-corruption story but the crux of the matter of the case is about putting an end to the de facto immunity Politburo Standing Committee members enjoyed in office or in retirement,” Steve Tsang, head of the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham, was quoted sa saying.
Keeping the trial secret would make it easier for Xi’s opponents “to allow this to proceed, as it would attract less attention than a public trial”, Tsang added.
If found guilty, Zhou may be given a suspended death sentence with a two-year reprieve, said Tong Zhiwei, a law professor with Shanghai’s East China University of Politics and Law. A suspended death sentence is normally commuted to life imprisonment.
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