New Corruption Trial Scrutinized for Links to Zhou Yongkang

Former security tsar and Politburo Standing Committee Member Zhou Yongkang appears to be the heftiest “tiger” in the crosshairs of Xi Jinping’s ongoing campaign against party corruption, and many of the retired high official’s allies and family members have found themselves ensnared in a widening graft probe. This week began the trial of Liu Han, a mining mogul with ties to Zhou’s son, who faces an array of charges including murder and leading a “mafia-style” gang. From the New York Times:

Mr. Liu’s trial is being scrutinized for connections between his activities and Mr. Zhou. Prosecutors in the court in the city of Xianning, in Hubei Province, announced Monday at least 18 criminal charges against Mr. Liu and his younger brother, Liu Wei, according to a microblog post by the court. The charges include murder, extortion, illegal detention, destruction of property, harboring criminals, and illegal possession and trade of firearms. Thirty-four of Liu Han’s associates are also being tried.

[…] The trial, taking place in Hubei Province presumably to shield it from Mr. Liu’s influence, which was widespread in Sichuan, is expected to continue for days or even weeks. The 36 defendants are being tried in five courtrooms; all of the cases opened Monday.

[…] The propaganda spectacle surrounding the trial appeared to be an attempt to convey to ordinary citizens that Xi Jinping, the head of the Communist Party, and his fellow leaders are serious about their crackdown on corruption, which party officials say is aimed at snaring both “tigers” and “flies” — that is, both high- and low-ranking targets. The dissemination of details about Mr. Liu and his associates may also be laying the foundations for whatever announcements might follow about Mr. Zhou, the biggest “tiger” to be investigated so far, and his family members. [Source]

Reuters has details on Liu’s alleged criminal activities and his ties to the family of Zhou Yongkang:

Xinhua said Liu, who was arrested last year, was facing charges ranging from murder to gun-running and extortion for crimes carried out in southwestern Sichuan province. His gang was responsible for nine murders, Xinhua said, without giving details.

[…] [Anonymous sources] said Liu was among those whose assets had been seized, adding he was also among more than 300 associates and family members of Zhou who had been arrested, detained or questioned in recent months as part of the investigation.

“Liu Han was very close to Zhou Bin. They were business partners,” said one of the sources, who has ties to the Chinese leadership.

[…] Official media have not directly linked Liu’s case to Zhou Yongkang, but have alluded to possible ties since the mining baron’s rise coincided with Zhou’s time as Sichuan’s Communist Party boss. […] [Source]

As Liu’s trial was beginning in Hubei, corruption charges were being levied against PLA Lieutenant General Gu Junshan in what may be Xi Jinping’s first anti-graft sweep through the armed forces. At the New Yorker, Evan Osnos offers a thorough summary of the ongoing crackdown on high-level party corruption, weighing Xi Jinping’s aims against the risks that come with hunting for “tigers” so high in the party ranks:

[…] In all, more than three hundred relatives, allies, and associates [of Zhou Yongkang] have been detained in the past four months, according to Reuters. Investigators have frozen bank accounts; seized securities, jewels, and gold bullion; and “confiscated about three hundred apartments and villas, antiques and contemporary paintings and more than sixty vehicles.” Even by the standards of Chinese-élite politics, the haul is impressive; Reuters reports that the seized assets have a combined value of at least ninety billion yuan—fifteen billion U.S. dollars. There is much that we still don’t know about these assets—how many of them are held by businesses, for instance, and which are tied directly to the Zhou family—but it’s worth pausing on the fact that a group of Chinese civil servants and their associates seem to have accrued a nest egg that is somewhat larger than the gross national product of Albania.

[…] Strategically, Zhou and Gu are among the largest targets on the block; if Xi is going to take down anyone in his anti-corruption drive, he gains the most authority by going after the biggest names. By confronting high-ranking “tigers,” as he calls them, he hopes to put a symbolic face on a campaign that has also resulted in the detention of tens of thousands of low-ranking “flies.”

Will this work? By highlighting spectacular acts of kleptocracy, doesn’t the Chinese President run the risk of outraging the public more than satisfying it? The answer, of course, is yes, which underscores the radical gamble at the heart of Xi’s bid to restore the credibility of the Communist Party in the eyes of Chinese citizens.

[…] In moments like this, it’s worth remembering words attributed to Chen Yun, the former Party elder: “Fight corruption too little and destroy the country; fight it too much and destroy the Party.” [Source]

Recently, human rights lawyer Teng Biao warned against getting too excited about the crackdown, as “the end result of these anti-corruption campaigns is yet more corruption among those lucky enough to remain in the system.” Also see “Captured in a Chinese Tiger Hunt,” the Financial Times look into the politics behind Xi’s anti-graft campaign.