Corruption in China

A Big Tiger protects his friends

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 August, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 August, 1998, 12:00am

The conviction of Chen Xitong poses as many questions as it answers.

The 16-year jail term will go some way towards mollifying popular anger at the putative head of the Beijing 'mafia', the mastermind of perhaps the largest corruption ring in China since 1949.

However, the real circumstances behind the multifarious crimes committed by Chen and his cronies in the Beijing municipal machinery might never be known.

Chen, a former Politburo member, is believed to have colluded with a number of highly-placed cadres and their offspring, as well as well-connected businessmen.

The published verdict gave nothing away so far as the accomplices of the 'Beijing godfather' are concerned.

Indeed, the only name mentioned was Wang Baosen, Chen's former aide who committed suicide in April 1995.

And while the party leadership seems to have made a commitment to promoting judicial transparency, Chen's was a closed trial.

Even though the details behind the Chen conviction might leak out gradually, the way the court proceedings were handled have given rise to suspicion that the authorities have something to hide.

Chen's 'special connections' with cadres - some of whom are still in power - are behind the fact that it has taken the authorities more than three years to conclude investigations and judicial proceedings.

The way the entire Chen affair has been handled shows that top party organs - particularly the Politburo Standing Committee, the Central Commission for Disciplinary Inspection and the Commission for Political and Legal Affairs - still call the shots so far as security, judicial and anti-graft matters are concerned.

While Beijing deserves credit for nabbing a 'big tiger', doubts remain about whether it is able and willing to go the distance in its much-ballyhooed anti-corruption drive. After all, it is possible that for his reported 'co-operation' in not implicating his accomplices, Chen will be granted medical bail, and able to serve out most of his term under house arrest.

Except for Chen, all of the so-called 'big name' corrupt officials arrested in the past few years have ranks of only up to the level of vice-governor or its equivalent.