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Ex-China security chief gets life

Published 11/06/2015

Zhou Yongkang has been jailed for life. (AP)
Zhou Yongkang has been jailed for life. (AP)

China's former security chief has been sentenced to life in prison on corruption charges.

Zhou Yongkang, a former member of the ruling Communist Party's all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee, is the biggest target to fall in President Xi Jinping's drive to end the long-standing culture of bribe taking among officials.

The First Intermediate People's Court of Tianjin said Zhou was sentenced after being tried on May 22 on charges of receiving bribes, abuse of power and leaking state secrets. The trial was held behind closed doors because of the final charge.

Zhou, 72, was sentenced to lesser terms on the abuse of power and state secrets charges, and was ordered to serve his sentences concurrently.

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

While portrayed simply as a blow against corruption, Zhou's sentencing removes a potential challenge to Xi's authority 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.

The dour-faced and once-feared Zhou had been under investigation since late 2013. The investigation also scrutinised Zhou's former allies in government and the oil industry.

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

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 gains.

While the charges of abuse of power and leaking state secrets were serious, they had not resulted in any major consequences, the court said.

"The court rendered the above verdict based on the facts of Zhou Yongkang's crimes, their nature, circumstances and the degree of harm to society," it said.

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