China's ex-security chief 'unlikely to get light sentence', say experts
Former security czar Zhou Yongkang, who is at the centre of China's biggest corruption probe in history, is unlikely to get off lightly, experts say.
The sensational trial of fallen political star Bo Xilai last year where proceedings were aired live on a micro-blog could even be dwarfed if Beijing decides to go ahead with an open criminal trial for Zhou - a scenario that is likely, experts say.
In a terse statement on Tuesday, the official Xinhua news agency said that Zhou, who retired from the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) in 2012, is being investigated by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for "serious disciplinary violation". 
The term is typically a euphemism for corruption, signalling that President Xi Jinping's anti-graft campaign has now reached PSC members long regarded as untouchable.
Xi's two immediate predecessors - Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin - had given their consent for the probe, allowing Xi to break the unwritten rule, Reuters reported, quoting sources.
While the heaviest punishment meted out in such internal investigations is expulsion from the party, the case is often passed to the courts. 
The expelled official is then charged and put on trial.
Already, Zhou's expulsion from the CCP seems imminent.
Notably missing from Tuesday's Xinhua report was the honorific "comrade", indicating that he will be - or has already been - booted out of the party, experts note.
With Xi repeatedly stressing the need to uphold the rule of law, the likelihood that Zhou's case will be brought before the court in an open trial is also high.
"Legal procedures are symbolically important and necessary to convince the public that the probe is not just a political or power struggle, but a matter of justice," Professor Huang Jing of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy told The Straits Times.
To cut deals or allow for leniency in such a politically significant case - even if Zhou were to cooperate with investigators - would make Xi lose political capital and legitimacy, he added.
Whether such a trial might include the same degree of openness and transparency as Bo's remains to be seen.
The former Chongqing party chief's political career imploded after the death of a British businessman, for which his wife was convicted of murder. 
Bo himself was sentenced to life in prison for bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power in September last year.
In an unprecedented move, the court that tried Bo released transcripts and photos of the proceedings on a live micro-blog.
Shenzhen University analyst Ma Jingren said the courts would have learnt from their previous experience in conducting a public trial for a high-profile suspect but it is unclear if they might use the same methods.
An editorial in the state-run Global Times, however, pressed for "timely revelations" and more transparency yesterday.
"Chinese judicial organs showed a certain transparency to the public when they dealt with Bo Xilai's case, and we hope they can improve this in regard to Zhou's case," the English-language daily said.
But Sydney-based China expert Kerry Brown said a public trial that would give Zhou a chance to speak out might not take place. 
Rather, a "plea bargaining" process might occur instead as the case wraps up.
Still, experts are agreed that it is the end of the road for Zhou. 
Depending on the "crimes exposed" during the investigation, the sentence could range from 20 years' jail to the death penalty, Prof Huang said.
"Zhou Yongkang is as good as finished."

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