Ni Fake's downfall plays out in a moral maze in Chinese media

A known penchant for jade led to Ni Fake's arrest, but his claim anti-graft officials share responsibility has sparked debate

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 January, 2014, 3:43am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 January, 2014, 3:43am

Amid the big-name catches in the anti-graft campaign, Ni Fake could be easily forgotten.

But the former deputy governor of Anhui province, who is now facing prosecution, inspired some moralising in the media last week after officials gave details about his alleged jade collection.

He also attracted attention with a comment he reportedly made to party investigators, in which he said that if they had warned or punished him two years earlier, his big mistakes could have been avoided.

Ni began taking bribes in 2005, and steadily built a fortune, according to the Communist Party's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection. The report did not specify how much Ni amassed, but said that more than 80 per cent of it was in the form of jade.

The People's Daily, the party's mouthpiece, compared Ni's jade collecting to the follies of King Wei, who ruled from 668BC to 660BC. The king was obsessed with cranes, spent lavishly raising them, and bestowed his favourites with a title equivalent to knight. When barbarian troops attacked from the north, the king's unhappy soldiers told him to march to battle with his "crane generals". Victory went to the other side.

The People's Daily said officials should be wary of hobbies or pursuits that spiral out of control.

Nearly all corrupt officials exhibited an obsession in some form, ranging from lowly gambling and sex to more "tasteful" temptations such as calligraphy or antiques, it said. But they all ended up in prison and some even lost their lives.

"Like a kung fu master who would do anything to protect their weakest spot … officials must restrain their 'love' and 'interest' to avoid becoming a follower of King Wei and Ni Fake," it said.

Qiu Shi journal, a key party publication, sought to explain why Ni opted for jade. "A good jade stone is rare. It's an item of heritage to be passed on to a future generation," it said. "It is valuable and tasteful, and far more secure and meaningful than other forms of wealth."

But Ni fell because he went too far and revealed his hobby to others, giving a green light to would-be bribers.

Government leaders with similar hobbies should heed Ni's fate as a warning and "rein in the horse before a cliff".

Ni's complaint about his belated punishment also drew the interest of mainland media. "Ni's complaint is not unreasonable," said a commentary by the West China City Daily in Chengdu, Sichuan province.

Government officials were told every week about the dangers of graft, but cases continued to arise because some viewed punishment as something remote.

"To make officials unwilling or unable to take bribes, power must be put into the cage of law and regulation," the West China City Daily said. "Ni's complaint should not be taken as a joke, but as a helpful reminder, if not a warning."

The Guangzhou Daily in Guangdong ran a similar commentary, but stressed Ni's complaint was not uncommon among corrupt officials. Many had moaned to their supervisors from jail that "if you loved me, you should have kept an eye on me", the Guangzhou Daily said.

In theory, a county-level official is under the supervision of eight watchdogs; but in practice there was only a single force restricting them - their self-control - it said.

The Beijing Morning News said authorities sacked Ni almost 10 years after first receiving a batch of files accusing him of corruption. "It is evidence of the backwardness of the anti-corruption system," the newspaper said.

Ni's expensive jade hobby had been an open secret in the government, but had prompted neither investigation nor raised suspicion in local anti-corruption authorities, it said.

"If our anti-graft system was effective, no officials would have the time and leisure to 'play to their death'," it said.

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