China jails former security chief Zhou for life

The highest profile political trial in China is now over. China's former security tsar, Zhou Yongkang, has been sentenced to life imprisonment by Tianjin No.1 Intermediate People's Court, Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported.

He was also stripped of all political rights for life and all his personal assets were confiscated, Xinhua reported on Thursday.

Zhou, the most senior Chinese official to stand trial on graft charges in decades, was formally charged in April with taking bribes, abuse of power and intentionally leaking state secrets.

He is the highest ranking politician to be taken down in Chinese President Xi Jinping's nationwide anti-corruption campaign, which also included the downfall of Zhou's political ally Bo Xilai. Zhou was a member of China's Politburo, the country's most powerful decision making body. In Chinese history, no Politburo member has ever stood trial on any charge.

According to the prosecution Zhou took more than 129 million yuan ($21 million) as well as using his power to help others to illegally gain 2.1 billion yuan. He also has leaked five top-secret documents.

In this May 18, 2012 photo, security chief Zhou Yongkang delivers a speech at a meeting in Beijing.
STR | AFP | Getty Images
In this May 18, 2012 photo, security chief Zhou Yongkang delivers a speech at a meeting in Beijing.

The maximum punishment for bribery is the death penalty; the state-secret and abuse of power charges each carry up to seven years in jail.

The Xinhua news agency said that the trial, which started on May 22, was not held publicly as it involved the discussion of state secrets.

The authorities announced in July last year that Zhou was being investigated on suspicion of abuse of power and corruption.

Dozens of officials with connections to Zhou have been detained on suspicion of graft in the past two years. Many are linked to Zhou's former power bases in the oil industry, domestic security and in Sichuan province. Both of Zhou's sons have been detained by investigators.

The government announced in April this year that Zhou would stand trial over the charges and since then the legal process has been closely monitored by the Chinese public.

Online reaction to the sentencing came down broadly in favor of the prosecutors, with commenters applauding the central government's determination to root out corruption.

However, a number did question why the trial was held in secret and why Zhou was not sentenced to death. Many analysts have also questioned whether Zhou's trial is part of an honest clean-up of the Chinese Communist Party or a political purge.

According to Xinhua, the Tianjin court handed down a lenient sentence since Zhou admitted his crimes and he and his family have returned the money in question after the investigation.

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