China targets extremely 'greedy officials' as anti-corruption campaign continues

President Xi Jinping launched his sweeping crackdown on graft when he first came to power five years ago. Photo: Reuters

Prior to the National Day holiday, Yang Chongyong, a former senior legislator of North China's Hebei province, was given life sentence for taking bribes of over 206 million yuan, amid China's tightened crackdown on hugely avaricious officials.

Since the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in 2012, a far-reaching anti-corruption campaign initiated by President Xi Jinping has rapidly spread across the country, bringing more than 1 million "tigers and flies" to justice.

Yang, former deputy director of the Hebei Provincial People's Congress Standing Committee, is the 26th official punished for illegally accepting money of more than 100 million yuan since the end of 2014, when Zhang Xinhua, a former boss of a state-owned enterprise, became the first one who was found guilty of accepting bribes of 280 million yuan.

Among these 26 officials, Zhou Yongkang is regarded as the biggest "tiger", who is jailed for life for taking bribes of 129 million yuan, abuse of power and intentionally disclosing national secrets. Zhou is an ex-Politburo member of the CPC.

The 26 maleficent officials also include Lai Xiaomin, former chairman of China Huarong Asset Management, Zhang Zhongsheng, former vice mayor of a poverty-stricken city in the coal-rich province of Shanxi, and Sun Caizheng, former political high-flyer once tipped to be among the country's next generation of leaders.

Appallingly, investigators found that Lai concealed 270 million yuan of cash weighing as much as 3 tons in his several properties. Zhang went further. He was described as the "greediest" official, and was sentenced to death for accepting over 1 billion yuan in bribes.

Most of the 26 officials were given life imprisonment or death sentence with reprieve. But the Supreme People's Court says that the criminals can be granted leniency, normally reducing the term of sentence to 13 years at the most, if they make positive confession or show repentance while in prison.

Zhang Yue, former secretary of Hebei province's politics and law commission, and Jing Chunhua, former general secretary of the Hebei Provincial Party Committee, were sentenced to 15 years and 18 years in prison respectively due to their good attitude of acknowledging their crimes.

Over the recent two months, China has tightened the anti-graft drive, which has brought down several minister-level officials such as Nur Bekri, one of the most senior Uighur officials in the government, and Zhang Shaochun, former vice minister of finance. These officials are being investigated for violating political discipline.

A recent commentary published in a magazine run by the Central Commission for Discipline and Inspection (CCDI), a powerful anti-corruption body of the CPC, said that "political discipline and political rules must be put in the first place" because it is very important to the ruling party's political foundation.

The commentary also named several serious corruption cases involving Zhou Yongkang, Bo Xilai and Sun Caizheng, accusing them of turning a blind eye to the Party's political discipline, furthering their economic interest through power and nepotism. "[They] have severely jeopardized the country and Party's political security," said the commentary.

The sweeping anti-corruption campaign has won the hearts of Chinese nationals. But how effectively can it improve the political ecosystem in China?

According to the Corruption Perceptions Index 2017 which Berlin-based nonprofit organization Transparency International published earlier this year, China ranked 77th last year with a low score of 41 in the global corruption index of 180 participating countries and regions, climbing up just two places compared with 2016.

Hong Kong moved up two places to the 13th place with a score of 77, while Taiwan ranked 29th on the index.

The top 20 were mostly developed countries including New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States and Japan.

However, the Chinese government has cast doubt over the credibility of the Corruption Perceptions Index, and has said that China's position in the index goes against the actual situation in China.

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