Why Tianjin court was picked for trial of Zhou Yongkang

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 April, 2015, 12:12am
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 April, 2015, 11:36am

The task of trying Zhou Yongkang, the most senior mainland official yet to face graft charges, will fall to a court in Tianjin, where the corruption case of a former Shanghai party chief was heard.

The No 1 branch of Tianjin’s municipal procuratorate filed Zhou’s indictment in the Tianjin No 1 Intermediate People’s Court on Friday, Xinhua reported, without giving a date for the trial.

Analysts said Tianjin’s previous experience in handling sensitive court cases involving senior officials and its location might have been why authorities chose it.

“There are no clear rules regarding the selection of locations [to hear] this kind of case. Tianjin tried Chen Liangyu and some other major cases. Maybe [the authorities] have taken their experience in trying senior officials into consideration,” Peking University law professor He Weifang said.

Chen, the former party chief of Shanghai and a Politburo member, stood trial in Tianjin’s No 2 court in 2008. He was sentenced to 18 years in jail for taking bribes and abusing power. The same court also tried former Hubei governor Zhang Guoguang in 2004, who was jailed for 11 years for bribery.

Trying top officials outside the places where they took office or had connections has become a common judicial practice in the past decade. The unwritten rule is it is an attempt to minimise the interference that officials might exert over their trials.

The court case of former Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai was heard in Jinan, Shandong province. But He said Zhou’s influence was nationwide. He spent 10 years in the country’s domestic security and judiciary system, before retiring in 2012.

“I made a joke on Weibo saying that if [the authorities] want to avoid places where Zhou was in charge to avoid interference from other factors, they should put him on trial in North Korea,” He said.

Beijing-based lawyer Mo Shaoping said the place of custody must also be taken into consideration. “The court should be convenient for [the suspect] to be transported to,” Mo said.

It is not known where Zhou is being held. He had reportedly been held in several places, including Tianjin, Shandong, Inner Mongolia, and Qincheng Prison in Beijing.

Beijing-based political commentator Zhang Lifan said that trying Zhou in Tianjin – only 120km southeast of Beijing – would “give the central leadership better control of the trial step by step”.

Nectar Gan