Corruption in China

One of China’s former top spy chiefs gets life sentence for taking US$15.8 million in bribes, insider trading

  • Ma Jian, former deputy head of the Ministry of State Security, also fined US$7.3 million for crimes committed over 15-year period
  • Guilty verdict handed down four years after Ma was detained
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 December, 2018, 5:09pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 December, 2018, 10:35pm

One of China’s former top spy chiefs has been sentenced to life imprisonment after being found guilty of accepting 109 million yuan (US$15.8 million) in bribes, and crimes relating to insider trading and forced share transfers.

After four years in detention, Ma Jian, the former deputy head of China’s Ministry of State Security, was tried on Thursday at Dalian Intermediate Court in northeast China, where he was also fined 50.5 million yuan.

The court ordered the confiscation of all of Ma’s personal property and demanded the return of his ill-gotten gains.

The defendant confessed to the charges and said he would not appeal.

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As deputy minister of the powerful state security ministry, a position to which he was appointed in 2006, Ma was in charge of China’s counter-espionage operations, according to sources with knowledge of the matter.

The crimes for which he was convicted, however, spanned a 15-year period between 1999 and 2014, the court heard.

In that time, Ma accepted bribes totalling 109 million yuan in return for using his influence to benefit various associates, including the now fugitive Chinese tycoon Guo Wengui, the chairman of Beijing Zenith Holdings Co.

The court also ruled that between 2008 and 2014, Ma and Guo colluded to force the sale of shares in brokerage firm Minzu Securities to Zhengquan Holdings to give the latter a controlling stake.

Ma was also found guilty of providing insider information about the restructuring of Minzu and another brokerage house, Founder Securities Co, to his family members, who used it to make a profit of more than 49 million yuan from illicit stock trades.

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While the exact date on which Ma was detained was never made public, the South China Morning Post was the first to report it on January 11, 2015. That report was confirmed four days later by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI).

His incarceration led to allegations of massive abuses of power and political jockeying within the state security ministry, but it was not until about two years later that the CCDI announced, on December 30, 2016, that he would be prosecuted for corruption and abuse of power.

The official had “seriously violated political discipline and political rules”, the watchdog said.

Ma is the highest-ranking security official to be jailed since Zhou Yongkang, the former Politburo member who once oversaw China’s security organs but was sentenced to life in prison in 2015.

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Ma’s links to Zenith chairman Guo, who now lives in self-imposed exile in New York, date back to 2006, when the official is alleged to have helped him secure a lucrative contract to develop a luxury residential project close to Beijing’s National Stadium.

The idea was initially blocked by Liu Zhihua, then deputy mayor of the Chinese capital, but after he was jailed over a sex scandal – an incriminating tape was said to have been provided by Ma – Guo was left unopposed and secured the deal.

Guo, who fled to the United States in 2014, told the Post in a telephone interview the following year that he and Ma were friends and had a “working relationship”. He also said he respected Ma “very much”.

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In April 2017, a video of Ma confessing to his crimes appeared online. In the footage he admitted to abusing his authority to help Guo settle disputes and business deals between 2008 and 2014, for which he was paid 60 million yuan in cash, property and other items.

Meanwhile, Li You, the former chief executive of Founder Group, which owns Founder Securities, was last month sentenced to 4½ years in prison and fined 750 million yuan for insider trading dating back to November 2016.