Former Politburo member Sun Zhengcai has been charged with corruption, becoming “the highest-level serving official to be prosecuted in President Xi Jinping’s sweeping anti-corruption campaign,” according to AP. Sun was a rising star in the Party who was appointed Chongqing Party chief to replace Bo Xilai, who was dismissed from office and later sentenced to life imprisonment for corruption. Sun was considered a contender for a coveted place on the Politburo Standing Committee, but last summer he was abruptly removed from his position, expelled from the Party, and named as part of a toppled clique of high-ranking party officials who schemed to seize power from President Xi Jinping. From the official Xinhua News Agency report on the charges against Sun:
Sun is accused of taking advantage of his posts to seek profits for others and illegally accepted huge amounts of money and property while serving as CPC chief of Shunyi District, Beijing, Standing Committee member and secretary general of the CPC Beijing Municipal Committee, agriculture minister, secretary of the CPC Jilin Provincial Committee, Political Bureau member of the CPC Central Committee, and Party chief of Chongqing Municipality, according to the indictment. [Source]
AFP further reports on the charges:
Sun Zhengcai, former party chief of the southwestern mega-city Chongqing, “should be held criminally responsible” for “seeking benefits for others” and “illegally accepting huge sums of money,” according to a statement on the website of the Supreme People’s Procuratorate.
The agency has transferred Sun’s case to the first branch of the Tianjin People’s Procuratorate to complete proceedings, it said.
In July, the Chinese Communist Party’s top watchdog launched an investigation against Sun for “serious discipline violation”, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
Sun was the first serving member of the elite 25-person Politburo to be placed under investigation since his predecessor Bo Xilai, who was jailed for life in 2013 in the wake of President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign. [Source]
Michael Martina of Reuters reports on what is likely to lie in store for Sun now that charges have been filed:
The next likely step against Sun will be to put him on trial, where he is certain to be found guilty as the courts are controlled by the party and will not challenge the accusations against him.
Chongqing is perhaps best known outside China for its association with Bo Xilai, another disgraced former party boss of the city. He too was once a contender for top leadership, but was jailed for life in 2013 after a dramatic corruption scandal.
The official Chongqing Daily said Chen chaired a meeting of the municipality’s standing committee on Monday, vowing to “resolutely purge” Sun’s “pernicious influence” and safeguard Xi’s authority as core leader of the party.
The meeting decided that Sun had inflated political ambitions and selfish desires and must be punished severely for damaging the party’s image, national interests and the sanctity of law. [Source]
As Christopher Bodeen reports for AP, Sun had been aligned with the China Youth League faction, which had support from Hu Jintao but has been weakened under Xi:
The chairman of China’s securities regulator said at a major party meeting last year that Sun and other senior figures prosecuted in the crackdown were “conspiring openly to usurp party leadership.”
Sun was expelled from the party and dismissed from public office in September because he was suspected of “serious discipline violations,” a phrase that usually refers to bribery and other graft.
Sun, 53, had been seen as a candidate for promotion to the Politburo’s Standing Committee, the select group of leaders who constitute the apex of political power in China.
He was removed suddenly from his Chongqing post and replaced by protege Chen Min’er, who was subsequently promoted to the Politburo.
Sun had been identified most closely with the China Youth League faction associated with Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao, which Xi has effectively sidelined in the succession process. [Source]
An associate of Sun’s, who was linked to family members of former Premier Wen Jiabao, has also been detained and put under investigation. Duan Weihong was an investor who set up several companies with relatives of Wen’s, as exposed by a report in The New York Times in 2012. She was detained in September 2017, though there has been no official announcement of her detention. While some believe her detention is related to the case against Sun, the exact nature of their association is unclear. David Barboza and Michael Forsythe report for The New York Times:
There has been no official acknowledgment of Ms. Duan’s detention, and it is not clear who detained her, why and whether she is still being held. Emails and phone calls to her offices were not returned.
[…] Another person close to her said she might have been detained as part of a corruption investigation into a former Politburo member, Sun Zhengcai, not Mr. Wen or his relatives.
[…] Ms. Duan’s connection to Mr. Sun is unclear. But she and her former husband, Desmond Shum, ran a company that acquired land around Beijing’s rapidly expanding airport before the 2008 Summer Games, according to corporate records. Mr. Sun had been the top official in the county where the airport is. [Source]
Xi’s anti-corruption campaign has also targeted the People’s Liberation Army, with thousands of officers investigated. Zhang Yang, one of China’s highest ranking generals, killed himself last year while being investigated for bribery.