Corruption in China

Top cadre under investigation after turning himself in to China’s graft-buster

Ai Wenli, a former senior political adviser in Hebei, is only second high-level official to give himself up to agency since crackdown on corruption began

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 31 July, 2018, 9:00pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 31 July, 2018, 9:00pm

A former senior political adviser from Hebei province has turned himself in to China’s graft-buster, the National Supervisory Commission said on Tuesday, only the second top official to do so since President Xi Jinping launched his sweeping crackdown on corruption.

But at the lower level, more cadres have been giving themselves up since the ruling Communist Party set up the super anti-graft agency in March, with expanded powers covering all public office and quasi-government bodies, an analyst said.

The commission said Ai Wenli – who was a senior political adviser in the northern province and said in a self-criticism session he had put personal gain over public interest – is now under investigation for “severely violating the law and party discipline”, which is usually a reference to corruption.

No further official details were given about Ai’s case, but he is the second provincial-level official to surrender himself for a graft investigation since Xi took power in 2012.

Former vice-chairman of the Hunan People’s Political Consultative Conference Tong Mingqian turned himself over to authorities in 2014. He was sentenced to five years’ jail for dereliction of duty and released from the infamous Qincheng Prison, a maximum-security facility where disgraced senior party officials are sent, in June.

Zhuang Deshui, deputy director of Peking University’s Clean Government Centre, said many lower level officials had turned themselves in since the National Supervisory Commission was set up.

“It’s rare in the sense that he is such a senior official,” Zhuang said. “Cadres know the party is serious about fighting corruption. Nothing is being left to chance, so more of them are considering giving themselves up in the hope they will be given more lenient treatment.”

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The new commission has far-reaching powers to monitor misconduct by any party members, as well as anyone who works for the legislature, in state-owned enterprises, local governments and at the management level in public hospitals and schools.

Ai went to the graft-buster shortly after the No 15 central inspection group publicly criticised Hebei officials on July 22 for failing to address problems and eradicate the influence of former party boss Zhou Benshun and his associates, according to state news agency Xinhua.

Zhou was jailed for 15 years in 2017 for taking bribes and was a close associate of disgraced security tsar Zhou Yongkang.

Ai, who is 63 and has spent his entire political career in Hebei, where he is from, was party secretary for Chengde and mayor of Shijiazhuang before he became propaganda chief for the province in 2011.

In Shijiazhuang, Ai was tasked with handling the Sanlu melamine-tainted milk powder scandal in 2008 that killed six babies and sickened 300,000 others.

He gave himself up six months after stepping down in January as vice-chairman of the Hebei People’s Political Consultative Conference.

Swept up in China’s anti-corruption campaign, and forsaken by a secretive, suspect legal system

Xi sat through a four-day self-criticism session with Hebei officials in 2013, during which Ai, who was then propaganda chief, said he had “overspent” on the annual department budget in 2012 and “wasted” 3.3 million yuan (US$483,800) hiring celebrity guests for a provincial spring gala that year, according to Beijing Times.

Ai also said during the session that he had put his personal interests first, according to Xinhua.

“Sometimes when it comes to decision-making at work [I] never really position myself as a family member, servant and confidante of the people. At times, I have prioritised personal reputation and interest … and placed subjective will over that of the people’s,” Ai was quoted saying.

He was described by a colleague as “passionate and experienced” but lacked “executive” skills and could be “bureaucratic at times”, according to the Xinhua report.