Corruption in China
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China’s former deputy security minister Sun Lijun was given a suspended death sentence that will be commuted after two years. Photo: Weibo

Chinese ‘political clique’ leader Sun Lijun faces life in jail for corruption as law enforcement purge winds down

  • The former deputy security minister accused of being disloyal to Xi Jinping was given a suspended death sentence
  • Five other members of Sun’s faction have been sentenced this week as the purge winds down ahead of a major leadership reshuffle
China’s former deputy security minister Sun Lijun, who was accused of leading a “political clique” and being disloyal to President Xi Jinping, was jailed for life on Friday.

Sun’s sentencing came after five former police chiefs who were implicated in his corruption case were jailed earlier this week, indicating that the biggest purge in China’s security apparatus over the last five years is drawing to a close.

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The purge comes ahead of a major leadership reshuffle at the twice-a-decade Communist Party congress that begins on October 16, where Xi is expected to secure a norm-breaking third term in power.

Sun, 53, received a suspended death sentence that could be commuted to life in prison without parole after two years.

In June he pleaded guilty to accepting bribes totalling 646 million yuan (US$91 million) in exchange for business favours, government jobs and promotions; helping criminals evade justice; manipulating the securities market; and illegal possession of firearms, state broadcaster CCTV reported.

All of his personal property and illegal gains would also be confiscated, CCTV said, citing a statement from the Changchun Intermediate People’s Court in the northeastern province of Jilin.

The court statement said Sun had started to take bribes as early as 2001, when he was an official in charge of foreign liaison with the Shanghai health bureau. The corruption continued throughout his career, including as a senior official in the Shanghai government’s foreign affairs office and in various posts within the Ministry of Public Security.

Court documents said Sun used his power to influence the trading price and volume of various stocks and helped others avoid losses of more than 145 million yuan. He was also found guilty of illegally possessing two firearms.

This week the courts sentenced five other alleged members of Sun’s clique for corruption.


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On Thursday former justice minister Fu Zhenghua, 67, and Wang Like, 57, who was in charge of political and legal affairs in eastern Jiangsu province, were both given suspended death sentences by the same court that sentenced Sun.

As with Sun’s sentence, these could be commuted to life without parole after two years.

On Wednesday, three former police chiefs were jailed by different courts in Hebei province. Gong Daoan, the former Shanghai police chief, was jailed for life; Deng Huilin, who held the same role in Chongqing, was given 15 years; and Liu Xinyun, formerly Shanxi’s top policeman, was sentenced to 14 years.

One other alleged member of Sun’s clique Liu Yanping, 67, the former disciplinary chief at the Ministry of State Security, was expelled from the party and dismissed from public office three weeks ago. He has not been arrested or charged so far.

The sentencing of Sun “sends a clear political signal” to China’s security apparatus ahead of the party congress, demanding their loyalty to Xi amid a major overhaul of the Chinese security system’s leadership, said a law professor in Beijing’s Renmin University, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the topic.

Wang Xiaohong, 65, succeeded Zhao Kezhi as public security minister in June, while Guo Shengkun, 67, a Politburo member and secretary of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, is likely to retire after the party congress.

“Xi is telling the law enforcement team that he has zero tolerance for disloyalty and corruption, and the consequences can be very dire,” the professor said.

“Certainly, these cases will be featured prominently in the upcoming party congress’s disciplinary reports as major anti-corruption trophies.”

In January CCTV broadcast an anti-corruption documentary called Zero Tolerance co-produced by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), the party’s top anti-corruption watchdog.

Sun admitted in the documentary that he had been cultivating a “political clique” with senior police chiefs and accepting bribes, including regular gifts of US$300,000 from Wang Like, who described them as “a little seafood”.

Sun, a former personal aide to retired security tsar Meng Jianzhu, was appointed vice-minister for public security in 2018 and previously headed the ministry’s first bureau, which is responsible for China’s domestic security, including Hong Kong and Macau.

He was also the deputy head of a high-level team sent by Beijing to Wuhan in February 2020 to help contain the Covid-19 outbreak.

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When Xi visited the city in March that year, Sun was shown reporting to him on national television. He was detained a month later.

In September last year, when Sun was expelled from the party, the CCDI accused him of “never having real faith or ideals” and harbouring “hugely inflated political ambitions” and “causing extreme danger” to the party.