China’s former security chief Zhou Yongkang has been sentenced to life in prison on corruption charges following a closed-door trial held in Tianjin last month.
The verdict marks a major victory for President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign as Zhou becomes the highest-ranking former politician to face trial since the 1981 show trial of the “Gang of Four” and the most senior party member to face graft charges in the history of Communist Party rule.
In his black-haired glory days, Zhou was head of China’s Ministry of Public Security, as well as a member of the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee, China’s top decision-making body. He retired in 2012 and one year later became the biggest target for Xi’s austerity crackdown. Zhou was formally charged in April, nine months after a formal investigation was announced.
The Tianjin Municipal No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court found Zhou guilty of bribery, abuse of power and intentionally disclosing national security secrets. The court said that Zhou accepted its decision and will not seek appeal.
Xinhua reports Zhou was tried behind closed doors on May 22 because his case involved state secrets. No public announcement of his trial or conviction was made until today.
According to Xinhua, Zhou received a life sentence for accepting bribes worth 130 million yuan, seven years for abuse of power and four years for “deliberately releasing state secrets.” The court also said that Zhou used his influence to allow others to realize 2.1 billion yuan in profits on business dealings that caused 1.4 billion in losses for the state treasury. It added that Zhou leaked five “extremely confidential” documents and one “confidential” document to very shady fortune teller Cao Yongzheng.
While abusing power and leaking secrets to mystics may seem like pretty severe charges and could have mandated a death sentence, the court said it decided to grant Zhou leniency because he truthfully confessed, pleaded guilty and showed repentance for his wrongdoings, even going so far as to order his relatives to hand over the majority of their ill-gotten gains.
In the end, the court said that while his crimes were serious they “they did not have serious consequences.” So that’s a relief everyone.
Except for Zhou, of course, who has had his political rights stripped, his personal assets seized and his hair dye taken away.
All in all, Zhou took it pretty well, via Xinhua:
“The basic facts are clear. I plead guilty and repent my wrongdoing,” he said. “Those involved, who bribed my family, were actually coming after the power I held, and I should take the main responsibility.
“I broke the law and Party rules incessantly, and the objective facts of my crimes have resulted in grave losses of the Party and the nation. The handling of my case in accordance with Party rules and the law reflects the authorities’ determination to govern the Party strictly and advance the rule of law,” Zhou added.
The sudden verdict caught many China watchers off guard. In the long run-up many experts had compared Zhou’s case to that of his protege Bo Xilai, who had a tightly choreographed “trial of the century.” Foreign and domestic media were given notice 48 hours in advance that Bo’s trial would begin and it became sort of a big deal. In the end, Bo received a suspended death sentence and declared himself ready to face the “miseries” of imprisonment.
Many speculated that Zhou’s trial would follow much the same formula. In March, the head of China’s Supreme People’s Court even promised that the trial would be “open in accordance with the law.” But perhaps the laundry ended up being just too dirty and it didn’t go down as experts had expected. Of course, Zhou probably wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Friends of fallen security czar Zhou Yongkang say secret trial was ‘what he would have wanted’
— China Daily Show (@chinadailyshow) June 11, 2015
Zhou was once seen as untouchable, with a vast network of allies throughout Sichuan and in the state oil sector, police and courts. Investigators have recently targeted Zhou’s former friends in the government and the oil industry as part of the corruption crackdown that apart from cleaning up the government has the additional benefit of conveniently removing potential challengers to Xi’s authority in the shadowy world of factional politics among Party elites.
Deprived of another high-profile courtroom extravaganza, the China watcher Twittersphere still got to have some fun with the abrupt announcement:
So Zhou Yongkang did the full Bukharin. #GoodBolshevik
— Sam Crane (@UselessTree) June 11, 2015
Bo xilai and Zhou yongkang together in a cell in qincheng…what would they talk about?
— Bill Bishop (@niubi) June 11, 2015
Really happy we didn't have to go to Tianjin and waste a bunch of time for this show trial
— Benjamin Haas 本雅明 (@haasbenjamin) June 11, 2015
CCTV should cut to a Just for Men ad right. now.
— Gerry Shih (@gerryshih) June 11, 2015
Watch a very sorry fallen tiger here:
by Alex Linder
[Images via CCTV]