• Thu
  • Dec 25, 2014
  • Updated: 5:47pm
Zhou Yongkang

China announces corruption probe into former security chief Zhou Yongkang

Official probe into Zhou Yongkang ends rule protecting party's highest officials from corruption charges - and strengthens President Xi's hand

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 July, 2014, 6:06pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 September, 2014, 5:54pm


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Beijing yesterday announced an official investigation into former security chief Zhou Yongkang, shattering the decades-old political taboo of not prosecuting the highest ranking Communist Party officials for corruption.

Zhou, who retired from the Politburo Standing Committee in 2012, is being probed for "serious disciplinary violations" - a euphemism for corruption. His case will be handled by the Communist Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, Xinhua said in a terse report.

The announcement ended intense speculation since the South China Morning Post exclusively reported last August that current and retired party leaders had agreed to open a case against Zhou. He is the most senior Chinese official brought down by corruption in modern history and the case will have a far-reaching impact.

DON'T MISS: INFOGRAPHIC - Zhou Yongkang's web of power, money, connections

It ends the unspoken rule agreed by party elders towards the end of the Cultural Revolution that Politburo Standing Committee members would not be prosecuted on the grounds of economic or social crimes - for the sake of the party's unity. It will also galvanise President Xi Jinping in his fight against corruption, which he has identified as the single biggest threat to China and the Communist Party.

It breaks the convention that the PSC members are untouchable

"This is a big deal," said Professor Steve Tsang, director of the China Policy Institute at the University of Nottingham in Britain. "It breaks the convention that Politburo Standing Committee members are untouchable for criminal transgressions."

Other analysts and party sources said the announcement was intended to reduce behind-the-scenes struggles among top power holders and reunite the party under one banner ahead of a key gathering next month.

"The announcement suggests leaders have finally agreed on major policy issues, which will be finalised at the summer summit at Beidaihe [resort]," said Zhang Ming, a professor of political science at Renmin University. The Beidaihe summit is traditionally held in August.

On the same day, the leadership announced a key meeting for all party elite to be held in October to decide policy direction. President Xi said yesterday the rule of law would top the agenda at this meeting, the fourth plenary of the 18th Party Congress.

Given that Zhou had been in charge of law and order before his retirement, the public announcement of his corruption case will give Xi tremendous political credibility to reform the outdated legal regime.

DON'T MISS: Xi Jinping strengthens his grip with Zhou Yongkang takedown... but what next?

The Post reported in May that the top leadership was eager to convince the party elite that the case against Zhou was a step to reinforce the rule of law, not only an internal political struggle.

Shortly after the Xinhua announcement, People's Daily website published a commentary saying that Zhou would not be "the last tiger" to be investigated for corruption.

"Some corrupted party members hold tremendous power in their hands. Their roots are deep and connections wide. Fighting them is not easy. But we must do it. Otherwise the people will not go with us," it said.

Watch: China's Xi cementing power with probe into Zhou: analyst

Experts believed Zhou, like his key party ally Bo Xilai, would eventually face public prosecution.

Their downfalls are possibly linked. Zhou was said to be a political patron of Bo, the disgraced former Chongqing party boss. The two had allegedly teamed up in a failed attempt to grab power. Bo is now serving life in prison for corruption.

"I believe Zhou is likely to be tried in public just like Bo," said Zhang. "And he will receive a harsher penalty of a suspended death sentence."

Du Guang, a retired professor at the Central Party School, said it would be difficult to expose all the alleged crimes that Zhou had committed because "it would bring a much bigger crisis for the party". He agreed Zhou's case was likely to be heard in public .

A person connected with the party inner circle said Zhou had tried to meet former president Jiang Zemin , who was seen as his political patron.

"But Jiang turned down all the requests."

The news was picked up by news outlets around the world. Media sources said the mainland press was told to limit coverage.

Additional reporting by Cary Huang

Watch: Video of Zhou Yongkang at an NPC meeting in 2012



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This article is now closed to comments

Marcus T Anthony
The biggest problem is that with little transparency, no independent judiciary and a media that speculates at its own peril, we can never know the true motivation for these kinds of purges. And that is a big problem for the credibility of the leadership.
This is part of factional war within the CCP, not a war against corruption: just one more wave around the case of Bo Xilai.
CCP cherry picking which dirty guy out of all of them takes the fall. If they really want to go for big "Tigers" let's see them investigate Li Peng. For starters.
"President Xi said yesterday the rule of law would top the agenda at this meeting." What a joke.
Regardless of how one view the reason behind this purge of corrupt cadres, it has long-ranging impact. Zhou was the de-facto head of a "conservative, left-leaning" faction that included Bo Xi Lai and others, inheriting this position from Bo Zi Bo (Xi Lai's father). President Xi has effectively removed a line of powerful adversary to his position as head of the CCPC and President. Until China can be ruled according to an open and publicly challengeable system of laws as enshrined in its own Constitution drafted in 1949 but has not been enacted to date, it will be governed through a multi-millennial, feudalistic code where power is derived and secured through ruthless means and mercy is perceived as ultimate weakness.
Zhou and his cohorts are indeed guilty of corruption, gross and rampant abuse of power to serve their own gains at severe and irrevocable expense of the Chinese mass; however, which Chinese official or business-person can possible survive in China's convoluted collusive power and money grabbing without participation in all forms of evil. A sinless man taught us: " Let he who has not sinned cast the first stone!"
Ah, sarcasm at its best.
Why can't they accept that corruption has been, is and will always be the ways of life in China! Every top officials are guilty as charged and it's a question who hides the stash better. There is even incriminating evidence from New York Times that Wen Jiaboa has a hidden fortune and the only reason why he wasn't put on trial because that would really put China to horrendous shame.
To put all perpetrators to justice is like committing genocide. So I wish SCMP would stop posting mug shots of people ( We don't even care ) and write a full column that hogs up spaces to only serve the mainland's grand propaganda scheme. Let's us read some REAL news.
I don't believe that any officials are corrupt, they agreed when they were sworn in that they will uphold integrity and do things for the good of the country.
If they promised, they won't lie, just like our Government and PRC are promising things are done for the good of HK and there are no self interest at play.
If they are really going for the tigers; Li Peng, Wen Jiabo, Jiang Zemin + all of the others are in the boat.... Clearly just political struggles....
Btw communism is really dead, have you seen how the communist members move around ? Just see what cars they are driving or in what house they live, a communist payslip cant pay all of that in luxury. People are greedy by nature, there is no place for communism. When there is time for something else it will come. And how did communism came to power to replace the KMT ? Peaceful talks ? think again....
@"Why can't they accept that corruption has been, is and will always be the ways of life in China! "
You could just as easily have written "why don't Hong Kong democrats accept that corruption will always be a way of life in the democratic West."
Corruption has no political boundaries.
What is different in this scenario is that the CCP publicly accepts the problem exists and is dealing with it ruthlessly while in the West it is still generally swept under the carpet except for an occasional arrest of some small fry to show something is being done.
How many members of US Congress get arrested each year? And why are they all millionaires?



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