No let-up for corrupt ‘tigers’ in 2018 as China’s graft-busters claim more big scalps
- More high-ranking officials were detained and charged last year than in 2017
- But after the Communist Party declared a ‘crushing victory’ in the anti-corruption drive it is unclear if there will be any change in priorities
Six years into President Xi Jinping’s war on corruption, the Communist Party’s graft-busters detained another 23 “tigers” – or high-ranking officials – in 2018, five more than the previous year.
Prosecutors also charged 32 provincial- and ministerial-level officials last year, which was 14 more than in 2017.
But while there seems to have been no let-up in the campaign, the year’s tally does not indicate the party watchdog and prosecutors went after more senior scalps in 2018 – many of the cases prosecuted were the result of lengthy investigations carried out over previous years.
Nevertheless, the party declared a “crushing victory” in the anti-corruption drive in December, though it also warned that the situation ahead was still tough and the fight must go on. The sudden announcement by the Politburo left observers debating what it meant for the crackdown and whether it could signal a change in priorities.
Xi Jinping’s anti-graft drive has caught so many officials that Beijing’s elite prison is running out of cells
More than 1.3 million party officials at various levels – from the powerful “tigers” to low-ranking “flies” – have been caught in the campaign since it was launched in late 2012. The anti-graft drive hit its peak in 2016.
Of the 19 “tigers” who were sentenced last year, the case of Sun Zhengcai was the highest profile. Sun, who was a political high-flyer once tipped to be among China’s next generation of leaders, was jailed for life in May for taking 170 million yuan (US$24.7 million) in bribes.
Sun’s case was handled faster than most. The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection took just over four months to complete an internal investigation before it handed the case to the judicial system at the end of September 2017. The Tianjin No 1 Intermediate People’s Court then sentenced Sun, a former Politburo member who had pleaded guilty, after 26 days – the shortest length of time taken to wrap up a case involving a “tiger” last year.
In contrast, it took the Changzhou Intermediate People’s Court more than 15 months to deliver a verdict on Hebei’s former security chief, Zhang Yue. Zhang, who also pleaded guilty, was sentenced to 15 years’ jail in July for accepting 156.9 million yuan in bribes. He was also fined 5 million yuan.
Five of the “tigers” who were sentenced last year were jailed for life – Sun, along with Ma Jian, former deputy head of the state security ministry, Chen Xu, who was Shanghai’s chief prosecutor, Wei Minzhou, former deputy head of the Shaanxi People’s Congress, and Yang Chongyong, former deputy head of the Hebei People’s Congress.
The other 14 senior officials sentenced were given jail terms of more than 10 years.
And all except one of the “tigers” were found guilty of accepting bribes.
Lu Enguang was jailed for 12 years and fined 3 million yuan in October for offering, rather than taking, bribes. In the 1990s, Lu was a peasant turned small-time entrepreneur in a village in Shandong, and nearly 25 years later he was appointed head of the political department at the Ministry of Justice. He was found to have provided fake information about his age, family, education, employment background and application documents when he joined the party, according to state media reports. He was also found guilty by the Anyang Intermediate People’s Court of offering bribes totalling 12.78 million yuan to “buy official positions and honorary titles along the way”, and using his power to benefit his business interests.
Of all the high-ranking officials found guilty of taking bribes last year, former Hebei official Yang amassed the most illegal gains at 206 million yuan. Former Politburo member Sun’s 170 million yuan was the second biggest total.
Although not considered a “tiger”, Zhang Zhongsheng, former deputy mayor of a poverty-stricken city in coal-rich Shanxi province, topped that – he was sentenced to death in March for accepting more than 1 billion yuan in bribes. Zhang had been known for his splendid hilltop mansions and dubbed the “godfather” because of his influence and power in the city of Luliang.
Another 14 “tigers” faced court on corruption charges in 2018 but have yet to be sentenced. They include Xiang Junbo, who was head of the insurance regulator, who pleaded guilty to taking bribes in June, and former internet tsar Lu Wei, who in October also admitted to taking bribes.