Disgraced former Beijing party boss Chen Xitong calls his corruption conviction 16 years ago 'the biggest injustice since the Cultural Revolution'.
Continuing a fight to clear his name, the ailing Chen - who was once one of China's most powerful men but is now in the late stages of colon cancer - hints for the first time in soon-to-be-published interviews that he was a victim of a purge by then-president Jiang Zemin.
The former Beijing party secretary and Politburo member dismissed as 'pure fabrication' rumours he had been plotting to undermine the president, which many China watchers have long believed precipitated the bribery charges against him.
Chen, 81, said he was airing his grievances in scholar Yao Jianfu's upcoming book Conversations With Chen Xitong because authorities had ignored requests to review his conviction.
'I always hope that one day they will right the wrong, but they've proved to be very stubborn,' Chen said. 'I have no choice but to speak out. This is to defend truth and it is in line with our party's principle. If the People's Supreme Court cannot reverse my case, their claim of judicial independence is a lie.'
Chen was convicted of accepting 550,000 yuan in bribes and using public money to build what authorities described as luxury villas. He was sentenced to 16 years and sent to the secretive Qincheng Prison in Beijing, where he stayed until his release on medical parole in 2006.
Mayor of Beijing during the June 4 crackdown, Chen was widely seen as the leader of a 'Beijing clique' that was a rival to Jiang's 'Shanghai clique'. But Chen said he never tried to compete with Jiang for power. 'I have never treated Jiang as an enemy,' he said. 'I resolutely supported Jiang and respected him.'
There were rumours his downfall involved Bo Yibo, the late party revolutionary known as one of the Communist Party's 'eight immortals' and the father of disgraced former Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai. The talk was that Chen had sent paramount leader Deng Xiaoping a letter complaining about Jiang and that Bo had told the president about it.
Chen said the elder Bo's third son, Bo Xicheng, had mentioned the rumour during a visit.
'We both laughed it off because it was too ridiculous,' Chen said. 'It is a slander of me and a slander of Bo Yibo. But does Jiang Zemin suspect me [because of this]? Because the emperor is paranoid, many a minister's life is destroyed, as the old Chinese saying goes.'
Chen said the event that triggered his bribery charges - his transfer of gifts received from foreign dignitaries to the Beijing People's Art Theatre (BPAT) - actually resulted from an order by Jiang.
'Jiang inspected the Beijing People's Art Theatre one day and found they were short of funding,' Chen said. 'He asked people to relay a message to me and asked me to help BPAT.'
He duly went to Hong Kong to seek donations from tycoons. He had hoped to raise 100 million yuan to set up a development fund for the theatre. So he also decided to donate all the gifts given by foreign dignitaries to the fund. He asked his secretary to vale the items before donating them.
'According to the rules we can either donate the gifts to charity or hand them over to [the government],' Chen said. 'What I did was perfectly in accordance with the law. Everything is properly recorded and comes with receipts.'
He said the so-called luxury villas were just two guesthouses that he had done up for officials on duty.
'They later organised many people to visit those 'luxury villas' [to prove my crime]. I heard many of those who went asked why Chen Xitong was so cheap.'
Chen said he refused an allowance of 3,500 yuan a month that he was offered in prison out of fear that it would be seen as a gesture that he accepted the verdict against him.
Chen said he had suffered more than late party general secretaries Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang, who both fell from grace in the 1980s after falling out of favour with Deng. 'Compared with them, I'm but a small potato,' he said. 'But the injustice and smears I faced are much heavier.'