China’s Communist Party expels former veteran justice minister over graft claims

Wu Aiying one of a dozen Central Committee members dumped ahead of key national congress in Beijing this week

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 October, 2017, 6:02pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 October, 2017, 11:28pm

China’s Communist Party has expelled the country’s former long-serving justice minister, confirming her fall from grace over unspecified corruption charges just days before thousands of party members gather in Beijing for a twice-a-decade leadership reshuffle.

Wu Aiying, 65, disappeared from public view in February when she was dismissed by the country’s legislature after 12 years at the head of the Ministry of Justice.

In a statement late on Saturday at the end of a four-day meeting, the party’s powerful Central Committee said it decided to expel Wu after reviewing the results of an investigation by the party’s anti-graft watchdog, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI).

The CCDI said Wu – only the second woman to hold the post since 1949 – had “serious discipline problems”, a euphemism for corruption.

Beijing has not said whether Wu will face further punishment but political observers and state-backed media said Wu should be held responsible for the decline of the country’s legal system over the last decade and the promotion of Lu Enguang, a corrupt official who reportedly lied about his qualifications to become a political department head at the ministry on Wu’s watch.

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Lu was handed over to prosecutors in May after he was found to have given false information about his age, family, education and employment. He also allegedly bribed his way into his ministry post in 2015, Chinese media reported.

Beijing-based political analyst Hu Xingdou said Wu was a party bureaucrat with little knowledge of the law or the legal system.

Hu said she was known for her lead role in a crackdown on lawyers and legal activists two years ago, and should be held to account for China’s opaque and brutal prison system.

“Wu deserves her punishment,” he said.

More than 40 Chinese lawyers and nearly 400 activists called for Wu’s dismissal in a petition sent to the State Council and the National People’s Congress in October last year, accusing her of being responsible for a series of “unlawful” regulations that had severely violated lawyers’ rights.

Wu was one of only 10 women on the 18th Central Committee selected in 2012, and one of a dozen Central Committee members expelled from the party at the meeting last week.

In all 18 full Central Committee members and another 17 alternate members have been toppled since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012 and embarked on an anti-corruption campaign, more than the combined total for the four previous Central Committees.

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Wu’s expulsion came as a shock because the party had not named her in connection with any investigation, unlike other disgraced high-flyers such as former Chongqing party boss and Politburo member Sun Zhengcai.

Wu spent most of her career in the eastern province of Shandong, where she rose to become a deputy provincial party chief, before moving to Beijing in late 2003 to work at the Ministry of Justice.

The legal system has been one of the main targets of Xi’s crackdown, with former security chief Zhou Yongkang and many of his former associates jailed.

Although analysts said Wu was close to Zhou it was not clear if Wu’s downfall had any direct link to the former security tsar.

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Lu’s case was featured in a CCDI-produced TV documentary called The Sharp Sword of Inspection, which claimed Lu tried very hard to entertain “his leaders”, including sending gifts of vegetables, fruit and meat to their homes.

The documentary said “relevant leading officials at the ministry” must be held responsible for his activities.

A Beijing News WeChat account called Political Matters said Wu was one of the leaders involved in Lu’s wrongdoings.

It cited unnamed sources as saying Wu was known to be a no-nonsense straight-talker, once shouting at an underling when a mobile phone rang in the middle of a meeting.