Ex-aide of disgraced China security tsar Zhou Yongkang jailed for corruption
Former Communist Party chief in Hebei province, Zhou Benshun, sentenced to 15 years in prison on corruption charges
A former Communist Party chief in Hebei, who once declared “I don’t wear masks” when questioned about smog in the heavily-polluted province, has been sentenced to 15 years in jail for taking bribes, making him the latest close associate of the disgraced security tsar Zhou Yongkang to be thrown behind bars.
Zhou Benshun, who previously served as an aide to Zhou Yongkang, was convicted on Tuesday of taking more than 40 million yuan (US$5.8 million) in bribes directly or through his family, a court in Xiamen in southeastern Fujian province said in a statement.
As the party secretary of Hebei from March 2013 until the investigation into his affairs in July 2015, Zhou Benshun on occasion made national headlines.
At one meeting with President Xi Jinping, Zhou and his provincial colleagues were “sweating” when Xi pressed them to cut pollution, according to the China Economic Weekly, an official magazine.
At a session during the 2014 National People’s Congress, Zhou was asked by journalists whether he wore a mask as the smog was so terrible in his province, Zhou answered: “I don’t wear masks”.
The province’s capital city, Shijiazhuang, as well as the steel production bases of Tangshan, Handan and Xingtai are among the most polluted cities in China.
The former Hebei party chief’s fate has been closely followed by political observers given his close ties with Zhou Yongkang. The former Politburo Standing Committee member and the most senior official purged under President Xi’s sweeping crackdown on graft, was jailed for life in 2015 for corruption and leaking state secrets. He was later accused by Xi of involvement in “political conspiracies”, suggesting power struggles and not just corruption led to his downfall.
The Xiamen court said Zhou Benshun had abused his power to help others pursue real estate projects, take out bank loans and to secure promotions in exchange for bribes between 2000 and 2015.
His political career spanned from Hunan province to the party’s Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, where he served as Zhou Yongkang’s secretary for five years.
He was party chief in Hebei for two years before he was caught by graft busters.
The court in Xiamen said it gave Zhou a more lenient punishment because he had confessed his crimes and surrendered his ill-gotten gains.
Zhou Benshun said he would not appeal after hearing the judgement, the court said.
He was featured in a documentary made by the party’s top anti-graft agency that aired on state television in October.
The episode accused Zhou of living in an 800-square metre house with 16 rooms and spending over 1 million yuan on hiring two chefs and two domestic helpers. One of the helpers was responsible solely for taking care of his pets, the programme said.
Zhou was also accused in the programme of holding superstitious beliefs, including burying his pet turtle with religious scrolls. The atheist Communist Party does not allow its members to practice any form of religion.
A slew of Zhou Yongkang’s allies have been jailed since his sentencing in June 2015.
They include the former Sichuan province deputy party boss Li Chuncheng and Jiang Jiemin, who once headed China’s biggest oil company and later ran the state-owned companies watchdog.