China getting serious about corruption

Thu, Feb 7, 2013, 00:00

Authorities taking action after string of high-level scandals involving officials

China's anti-corruption drive is starting to bite, as authorities go after the little "flies" and the powerful "tigers" involved in graft, while every week brings fresh revelations of sleaze in high places.

Chinese newspapers can't touch these stories as they risk jail, but citizen journalists and bloggers post them on their Weibo accounts and they go viral very quickly.

Xi Jinping, who was named head of the party and the military in November and will be appointed president in March, said in a speech on January 22nd that targeting the "flies", or lowly people, involved in corruption, was just as important as going after the "tigers", or top officials.

He said failure to put a lid on corruption and extravagance could threaten single-party rule by the Communist Party, after a string of high-level corruption scandals.

Latest revelations

One of the latest revelations involves Li Qingshan, a senior Communist Party member in Liaoning in the northeast, who, online reporters claim, keeps a wife and four mistresses, "one of them who is pregnant". He already has reportedly fathered six children with five women.

As you can imagine, where having more than one child is not an option for the vast majority, this particular form of government sleaze has angered many people.

He is also accused of owning a number of firearms and being involved in organised crime, the Xinhua news agency says.

Official corruption at Chinese New Year is getting so extreme that radio and television stations are to ban advertisements for expensive gifts such as watches, rare stamps and gold coins, Xinhua reports, as part of a push by the government to crack down on extravagance and waste.

Among the brands affected are the makers of the expensive, fiery spirit baijiu, such as Kwei- chow Moutai and Wuliangye Yibin. Jewellery retailers are also suffering, after pricey watches came to epitomise corruption.

"As important cultural and ideological strongholds, radio and television channels should fully exert their role of educating the people," a spokesman for the state administration of radio, film and TV told Xinhua.

Last year, Yang Dacai, a former senior work safety official in Shaanxi Province, was fired after bloggers posted photographs of him wearing 11 luxury watches on multiple occasions. He was also criticised for being photographed smiling broadly at the scene of a crash in which 36 people died, but the luxury angle lost him any possible sympathy.

Among the best known whistleblowers is Zhu Ruifeng, a blogger and citizen journalist who has captured the zeitgeist by posting online revelations about corrupt cadres.

To date, relatively few whistleblowers have been jailed, although Zhu has had police visits and has been interrogated. He posted graph- ic footage on his microblog of a secretly recorded video of an 18-year-old having sex with Lei Zhengfu, the Communist Party boss of a district in the southwestern city of Chongqing.

Investigations revealed that Lei and 10 of his colleagues were filmed having sex with three women at various hotels in meetings set up by a property company trying to secure contracts. When the company sprang the honey-trap, they went to then-chief of police in Chongqing, Wang Lijun, who had the matter silenced.

Wang was the right-hand man of Bo Xilai, the biggest fish of all in the current corruption clampdown, the one-time rising star of the party who looked set for high office, but who became enmeshed in the biggest scandal in China in decades. Bo is expected to face charges of corruption after he was ousted as party boss in Chongqing

Since his ousting, the case was reopened and Lei and his cronies have all been fired.

Crackdown extending

Others include Liu Tienan, a senior energy regulator and vice-president of the national development and reform committee, who is being investigated for accusations he lied about his qualifications, stole bank loans and threatened a former mistress.

The crackdown is extending beyond China's borders. Macau, the former Portuguese colony which is now the gambling capital of the world, taking in far more in revenue from the tables than Las Vegas, has been jittery amid talk that the government is planning to extend the crackdown there.

The targets are the junkets for high-rollers, big-spending mainland Chinese who use the tables to clear ill-gotten gains. Many of these VIP gamblers are government officials.