China’s new graft-busters will have the power of interrogation

Pilot programmes to also have authority to seize assets, taking over from courts and prosecutors

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 December, 2016, 11:14pm
UPDATED : Monday, 26 December, 2016, 11:44pm

A series of new committees set up to crack down on corruption will have interrogation and asset-seizure powers that are normally reserved for prosecutors and courts, according to a new directive from the top ­legislature.

The committees – launched last month in pilot programmes in ­Beijing and Shanxi and Zhe­jiang provinces – had the power to question suspected corrupt officials, the directive from the National People’s Congress Standing Committee said. They could also search for, freeze and seal assets in those administrative areas, Xinhua reported on Sunday.

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The committees integrate various governmental forces fighting corruption, according to a directive issued in November.

Members of the committees would be elected by – and answerable to – local legislatures, which technically places them on the same level of the government’s executive branch, as well as the courts and prosecutors’ offices. The committees would be rolled out nationwide, based on the results of the pilot programmes, the directive said.

The creation of the committees comes after years of questionable practices by the Communist Party’s internal anticorruption force, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI).

Lawyers argue that the CCDI’s detention and interrogation of suspected officials, known as shuanggui, lacks support from the law, which grants such rights only to ­police and prosecutors.

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The committees are also coming into being as the party seeks to regulate the ever-growing and largely unconstrained power of the CCDI, which has spearheaded a sweeping anti-graft campaign over the last three years, netting corrupt officials netted at pace unseen since 1949.

Wang Qishan, the party’s anti-graft chief, said in November that the CCDI’s local branches would be subjected to more checks and balances inside the party.

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Zhuang Deshui, deputy director of the Clean Government Centre at Peking University, said the directive allowed the committees to take over certain powers from local courts and prosecutors, but questions over restrictions on personal freedom remained partially unresolved.

“The right of interrogation does not exactly translate into detention of suspects. The legal problem remains unresolved,” Zhuang said. “But the committees are placed under the scrutiny of local law-making bodies and shall enjoy more ­independence.”

The reform would also aid international cooperation in fighting corruption, Zhuang said. “Anti-graft cadres might find their foreign counterparts more cooperative if they represent a department under the government.”