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China's Former Spy Chief Jailed For Life After Secret Trial

Zhou Yongkang is the highest-ranking former Chinese politician to face court since the 1981 treason trial of Mao Zedong's wife and other members of the "Gang of Four".
Photo by Anindito Mukherjee/EPA

China's former security chief has been given a life sentence for corruption charges following a secret trial, seen as a victory for President Xi Jinping's anti-graft campaign.

The jailing has also been interpreted as a move to further cement Xi's authority by removing a potential challenger.

Zhou Yongkang, a former member of the ruling Communist Party's all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee, is the biggest "tiger" to fall in Xi's drive to end the longstanding culture of bribe-taking and influence-peddling among officials.


The First Intermediate People's Court of Tianjin said Zhou, 72, was sentenced on Thursday after being tried on May 22 on charges of receiving bribes, abusing power and leaking state secrets. The trial was held behind closed doors because of the final charge. Xi was also tried in a region where he had never served, so would have minimal supporters.

The sentence also mandates the seizure of all of Zhou's personal assets.

Related: China's Former Spy Chief Zhou Yongkang Charged With Corruption

Zhou's is the most shocking fall from grace in a massive anti-graft campaign that was launched by Xi after he took office two years ago. Since then, hundreds of thousands of Communist Party members have been arrested or punished.

The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection reported that the number of officials punished in China last year increased 30 percent to 232,000.

Along with Zhou, others accused include Xu Caihou, former vice-chair of the central military commission, and Ma Jian, a deputy head at the ministry of state security.

While portrayed simply as a blow against corruption, Zhou's sentencing removes one of Xi's arch-rivals and has been widely perceived as reflecting factional politics within the ruling party's uppermost echelon.

Zhou is the highest-ranking former politician to face court since the 1981 treason trial of Mao Zedong's wife and other members of the "Gang of Four" who persecuted political opponents during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution.


According to the court, Zhou received, directly and indirectly, a total of 130 million yuan ($21 million) in bribes and used his influence to allow others to realize 2.1 billion ($343 million) in profits on business dealings that caused 1.4 billion ($229 million) in losses for the state treasury — presumably through the sale of government assets at below cost.

Zhou was once seen as untouchable, with a vast patronage network covering the southwestern province of Sichuan where he used to be party boss to the state oil sector, police and courts.

Zhou Yongkang gets life sentence for taking bribes, abusing power and disclosing state secrets (File pic) — China Xinhua News (@XHNews)June 11, 2015

Zhou's actions "inflicted enormous damage to public finances and the interests of the nation and the people," the court said in an explanation of the verdict on its website. China frequently moves sensitive trials to other jurisdictions to avoid witness tampering and other potential problems.

The court said Zhou had accepted its decision and would not file an appeal. While the charges potentially mandated a death sentence, it said Zhou received leniency after confessing and showing repentance and ordering his relatives to hand over the majority of their ill-gotten gains.

Related: Tiger Chairs, Electric Batons, and Chili Oil: Report Finds Chinese Police Are Still Torturing Suspects

The Associated Press contributed to this report.