Sun Lijun and Fu Zhenghua, formerly powerful ministers in China’s state security apparatus, have been sentenced to death with a two year reprieve for corruption and other crimes. Such sentences are typically commuted to life in prison without parole. The timing of the verdicts and the allegation that Sun led a “political clique” that was disloyal to Xi Jinping place the two cases squarely in the shadow of the upcoming 20th Party Congress, which opens later this month. A host of less senior police chiefs were also convicted in connection with Sun and Fu’s cases. The Associated Press reported on Sun’s sentencing:
Sun was convicted by the court in the northeastern city of Changchun of collecting 646 million yuan ($91 million) in bribes, China Central TV reported on its website.
Sun was charged with using his official position in 2018 to manipulate stock trading to help a trader avoid losses. He also was accused of selling official jobs and abandoning his post during the COVID-19 outbreak.
[…] The ruling party’s anti-corruption agency accused Sun last year of having “extremely inflated political ambition.” It said he engaged in unspecified “superstitious activities.” [Source]
In a state-produced anti-graft documentary released earlier this year, Sun, who was behind bars at the time, recalled receiving annual gifts of boxed “seafood” from a provincial official which were actually filled with $300,000 in cash, totalling $15 million over the years. Sun was also involved in corruption in the United States. Earlier this year the Justice Department sued casino mogul Steven Wynn, alleging that he has acted as a foreign agent for the Chinese government—Sun allegedly lobbied him to call for billionaire Guo Wengui’s placement on a no-fly list. In 2017, Guo Wengui leveled unverified claims of corruption against Sun and others.
A host of other officials have fallen alongside Sun, accused of participating in his “clique.” At The South China Morning Post, William Zheng reported on former Minister of Justice Fu Zhenghua’s sentencing:
Fu was convicted of accepting 117 million yuan (US$16.6 million) in bribes and using his position to cover up his brother’s crimes, CCTV reported. Wang was found guilty of accepting more than 440 million yuan in bribes, and for covering up triad activities and forging identity documents.
[…] The court said Fu Zhenghua had admitted all charges, shown remorse and provided information to investigators on other corruption cases. But it said there would be no further commutation or parole granted after Fu’s death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment following the two-year reprieve due to the “serious harm caused to the country and society”.
The court described the bribes received by Fu as “particularly large”, the circumstances of his crimes as “particularly serious” and their social impact “particularly severe”.
[…] The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the party’s anti-corruption watchdog, said Fu had “lost his party spirit and principles” and accused Fu of colluding with Sun – the former vice-minister of public security who in July pleaded guilty to taking bribes, manipulating the securities market and illegal possession of firearms. [Source]
The former police chiefs of Shanghai, Chongqing, and Shanxi province were also convicted on corruption charges and accused of colluding with Sun Lijun. State media labeled them “two-faced” people. Liu Yanping, who led the Party’s anti-graft arm within the Ministry of State Security, was expelled from the Party in September for his alleged involvement with Sun. His expulsion paves the way for a lengthy prison sentence. Wan Like, the provincial official who gifted Sun the boxes of “seafood” mentioned above, was also convicted of corruption and handed a suspended death sentence. Xi has warned that the “stubbornness and danger” of corruption has not subsided despite the decade-long campaign against it. Yet the extraordinary raft of corruption charges tied to an alleged political clique do not appear to be simply a matter of graft. At The Financial Times, Edward White interviewed experts on Chinese politics about the political implications of the latest corruption crackdown:
“This clearly was a warning . . . against overt acts of factionalism and disobeying Xi Jinping diktats in the run-up to the 20th party congress, and beyond,” said Victor Shih, professor of Chinese political economy at the University of California, San Diego.
[…] Yuen Yuen Ang, an expert on China’s political economy at the University of Michigan, said it was “hard to believe” the latest cases were “routine” given the sensitivity of the timing. “Sometimes corruption crackdowns are about curtailing graft and other times they are a political instrument,” she said.
[…] “As Leninist regimes are ruled by man, not laws, any new leader overwhelmingly must rely on a purge of his rivals and promotion of loyalists within the regime to consolidate power and to implement his programmes,” said Wu Guoguang, [who worked as an adviser to former Chinese premier Zhao Ziyang and is now at the University of Victoria, Canada]. [Source]
Ironically, Fu Zhenghua’s sentencing coincided with the release of his former law school classmate Zhou Shifeng, a human rights lawyer imprisoned for seven years on charges of subversion. Zhou was one of 300 lawyers arrested as part of the 2015 “709 crackdown” on human rights lawyers. Wang Quanzhang, Zhou’s friend and a former human rights lawyer also imprisoned in the crackdown, spoke with Zhou and relayed his comments to the South China Morning Post: “Zhou reckons that the ‘709 crackdown’ is a major historical, political and legal event. Lawyers and human rights defenders involved in this event are important contributors in the history of the rule of law and human rights protection in China.” Wang added that Zhou “greeted Fu [Zhenghua’s] conviction with relief.”