x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

China's elite enjoy no promise of amnesty

The cases of Ms Gu and Mr Wen show that senior figures are not immune from being targeted by the autocratic system they were once part of.

BEIJING // A little more than two years ago, Bo Xilai was lording over the Chongqing municipality as party secretary, picking out officials and having them prosecuted.

Among them was Chongqing's judicial head, Wen Qiang, who was put on trial for corruption, rape and other offences and, in July 2010, was executed.

How the tables have turned.

Yesterday it was Mr Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, in the dock as part of a scandal that has also brought down Mr Bo himself.

Such a scenario must have seemed impossible to Mr Bo when he ordered a police operation against organised crime in Chongqing that saw almost 5,000 arrested, including police and other officials, with lengthy jail terms and death sentences handed out, including Wen's.

The "smash the black" campaign has been criticised over claims that suspects were tortured and due judicial process was cast aside.

What it demonstrated, however, was Mr Bo's skill for tapping into populist sentiment - the public loved his targeting of gangsters - and his brazen, showy ambition.

Ironically, it was the police chief who led Mr Bo's anti-crime drive, Wang Lijun, who was the catalyst for the arrival of Mr Bo's wife in a court in Hefei city yesterday. Mr Wang fled to an American consulate and told about the alleged corruption of Mr Bo and Ms Gu's alleged involvement the death of the British businessman Neil Heywood.

The cases of Ms Gu and Mr Wen show that senior figures are not immune from being targeted by the autocratic system they were once part of.

Among those likely to face trial in the future is Liu Zhijun, sacked as railways minister last year for alleged corruption.

In May he was expelled from the Communist Party and more recently his case has been passed to prosecutors in Beijing.

Reports have speculated he could be executed, with Mr Liu likely to be punished more severely because of a high-speed train crash in Wenzhou that killed 40 people, despite that it took place several months after he was sacked.

The case of Zheng Xiaoyu will probably loom in Mr Liu's mind when he is in the dock. Mr Zheng, who ran the state's food and drug regulator, was executed in 2007 for taking millions of yuan in bribes from pharmaceutical companies in return for approving drugs. At least five people died as a result of one medicine Mr Zheng wrongfully approved.

A year after Mr Zheng was put to death, the former party secretary of Shanghai, Chen Liangyu, was jailed for 18 years for alleged corruption.

Mr Chen had reportedly fallen out of favour with the president, Hu Jintao, highlighting that it is not simply criminal activity that can result in officials being prosecuted in China. The loss of political patronage is also key.

Perhaps the highest profile trial in modern China, and one that illustrates the same point, was that of Jiang Qing or Madame Mao, Mao Zedong's wife.

She went on trial with the rest of her "Gang of Four" partners in crime, who had advanced some of the most extreme measures during the Cultural Revolution, after her husband's death in 1976.

Ms Jiang was given a death sentence, later commuted to life imprisonment, but in 1991 she is said to have hanged herself in jail.

dbardsley@thenational.ae

twitterFollow The National on @TheNationalUAE & Daniel Bardsley on @DanielBardsley1