When gang leader Chen Xinfu was apprehended in Haikou, capital of south China’s island province of Hainan, earlier this month he told his arresting officers: “Guys, take good care of me, for old times’ sake.” Unlike the hundreds of other mob bosses who have been rounded up in recent months, Chen has a special relationship with the police: before his descent into the criminal underworld, he was deputy head of the public security bureau in the city’s Xiuying district. After leaving the force, Chen took up the reins of a local gang in 2006, which according to a statement issued on Wednesday by Haikou police, “terrorised local villagers” and “engaged in illegal mining and drug trafficking” in two villages for more than a decade. The latest sweep of China’s criminal fraternity is part of an ongoing crackdown on organised crime launched last year. It mainly focuses on criminal activities such as extortion, underground banking and drugs, all of which are common problems in grass-roots society. The nationwide, three-year campaign is designed to snare not just mob bosses but also the corrupt officials, known as “protective umbrellas”, who shield them from the law. As of March, more than 79,000 suspects had been detained as part of the campaign, Xinhua reported. Unlike in most Western countries, where campaigns against organised crime are controlled by police forces, in China they are tightly controlled by senior Communist Party officials. Corrupt Chinese ‘king’ who took US$10 million in bribes jailed for 12 years Heading the latest effort is Chen Yixin, secretary general of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, which oversees all law enforcement authorities, including the police. On Tuesday, Chen’s leading group announced that the Supreme People’s Court, Supreme People’s Procuratorate, and the ministries of public security and justice had issued four new documents clarifying the legal definitions and handling of a number of gang-related crimes. The following day, Xinhua reported that a new round of inspections had been launched to assess the effectiveness of the ongoing campaign. “From April 1 to 10, inspection teams were deployed to 11 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities, as well as the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps [a unique economic and paramilitary organisation in China’s far western region that has administrative authority over several cities] to oversee operations against gangs and organised crime,” the news agency said. “Meetings were also held in the 11 regions, calling for thorough investigations of the ‘protective umbrellas’ behind criminal organisations and the eradication of the gangs’ operations.” The inspection teams will be stationed in their respective regions for a month, and “hotlines, email addresses and postboxes have been set up to receive tip-offs from the public”, the report said. A Peking University professor who spoke on condition of anonymity said the campaign was the latest attempt by the Communist Party to prove its legitimacy and show it was “still in control”. Its focus, he said, was on grass-roots leaders, such as village heads and business chiefs , who wield considerable influence over local affairs. “For centuries, Chinese emperors held power in cities and towns, but had little control at the county level and their influence rarely ever permeated to the lowest levels of governance,” the person said. “I would say the significance of the latest phase of the crackdown is that it is a way for the country’s top leaders to enhance the legitimacy of their government.” At a Politburo meeting in December, Chinese President Xi Jinping said that his six-year battle against corruption had achieved a “ crushing victory ”, fuelling speculation it might be drawing to a close. Yan Huafeng, a lawyer in Hangzhou, the capital of east China’s Zhejiang province, said that the primary aim of the current campaign was increasing party control at the local government level. “The purpose is to strengthen social control and maintain stability,” he said, adding that party leaders wanted to show they were capable of dealing with ordinary people’s grievances regarding organised crime. Key to the success of the campaign was rooting out collusion between law enforcement officials and gang leaders, even though it would be the police conducting much of the investigative work, Yan said. “Cracking down on [corrupt] officers does not undermine the police’s authority to do its job.” He also cited the changes to the law announced last year that give police officers immunity from legal responsibility for any damage caused to people’s property or other interests in the course of their duty. “The changes send a message to the public that the police’s power to perform their duty should be respected.” Officials sacked over leaflet listing doctors as top target in organised crime fight Not everyone has confidence in the campaign, however. According to mainland media reports, several lawyers have found themselves facing charges simply for representing clients accused of having links to organised crime. On Thursday, prosecutors in Xining, northwest China’s Qinghai province, said in a social media post that they had charged lawyer Lin Xiaoqing with fraud and extortion. Lin was appointed by her firm to provide legal services to a car company in the city, which is suspected of being a front for the activities of a criminal gang. Sixteen people with links to the firm had been charged with blackmail and extortion, the notice said. But while they had all pleaded guilty, Lin denied having any involvement in the gang’s activities and said she hoped justice would prevail, Thepaper.cn reported on Saturday. “At this stage, I still believe that the law is fair and just, and I expect a fair trial by the court,” she was quoted as saying.