Graft-fighters turn spotlight on dodgy property deals

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 January, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 January, 2010, 12:00am

The Communist Party has targeted property-related corruption for the first time as its top anti-graft agency began a three-day annual meeting to map out this year's key missions.

Officials who are involved in dodgy property deals, including flat hoarding and buying flats at below market prices, will be the main target of this year's anti-corruption drive, Outlook magazine reported yesterday. The report coincided with the opening of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection's annual conference in Beijing.

The weekly, run by Xinhua, identifies several areas as priorities this year, including graft in stock transactions and assets investment, big infrastructure projects, corporate restructuring of acquisitions and mergers and foreign investment. Nepotism in employment and migration overseas will be also under scrutiny.

The crusade against property-related corruption comes amid a stepped-up campaign to cool the overheated property market, as rising housing prices have increasingly caused discontent among citizens.

In a circular released on Sunday, the State Council said it was taking steps to cool the property market. The government also vowed to curb speculation in real estate.

Beijing is faced with growing public anxiety over soaring housing prices, as well as heightened concern that if the asset bubble bursts it will threaten the economic recovery and social stability.

Urban property prices grew at their fastest pace in 16 months in November, rising 5.7 per cent year on year. It was the sixth consecutive month in which urban property prices increased.

But corruption is the chief reason for public discontent.

A Horizon Research Consultancy survey of 1,350 people in major mainland cities conducted last week said corruption was the worst blot on China's international image for the third year running.

At the end of last year, President Hu Jintao vowed to escalate the scale of the crackdown to continue the curbs on rampant graft as he convened a Politburo meeting to chart this year's corruption fight and review the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection's annual working report.

On Sunday, official media said that in the past 30 years as many as 4,000 officials had fled the country with a combined US$50 billion in public funds, or about 100 million yuan per official.

On Thursday the commission said 106,626 officials across the country had been punished for disciplinary violations from January to November last year.

And on Wednesday, a commission official said 35 senior executives of large state-owned enterprises faced corruption charges last year.

Corruption among senior executives has been a consistent problem for the central government in state corporations, which dominate huge swathes of the economy. Last week, Zhang Chunjiang, a senior executive of China Mobile, was stripped of all his positions on charges of corruption at the company, the world's largest operator by clients and market capitalisation.