China’s top graft buster turns camera on rot in own ranks

Nectar Gan
Wang Qishan, a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and secretary of the CPC Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, attends a meeting on anti-graft inspection in Beijing, Feb. 23, 2016.
Li Tao | Xinhua | Getty Images

Another year, and another prime-time documentary series from the Communist Party's top anti-graft watchdog is hitting mainland TV screens – this time detailing how the agency dealt with rot within its own ranks.

The three-part series, aired on CCTV nightly from Tuesday, reveals how discipline officers ­exploited their power over other officials – including those of ­higher rank – in exchange for cash and discounts on property purchases, among other bribes.

The watchdog, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, has become more powerful than ever since President Xi Jinping came to office and key ally Wang Qishan became the CCDI's head four years ago.

Discipline officials were so powerful they could intimidate higher officials, the series said.

Zhu Mingguo, Guangdong's former top graft buster who was given a suspended death sentence for corruption last year, said in the documentary that officials were afraid of the watchdog. "A discipline commission chief's views on an official or party member can decide his whole life," Zhu said.

As the anti-graft campaign has gained pace, officials have become more fearful of taking bribes, prompting many bribers to offer favours to disciplinary officials – who are considered immune from investigation – to advance their causes.

One of China's most important political events begins today

Wei Jian, a disgraced graft buster who oversaw the high-profile investigation into former Chongqing party boss Bo ­Xilai, said all he needed to do to get a project approved for a Sichuan businessman was make a call to the province's party boss, Li Chun­cheng. Li has since been jailed for corruption.

Graft busters were also sought out by officials such as former ­Tianjin mayor Huang Xingguo, who wanted to know about investigations against them. ­Huang was expelled from the ­party yesterday and will face prosecution for graft.

The documentary comes ahead of a major leadership reshuffle late this year.

Under the party's unwritten rules, CCDI chief Wang, who will be 69, is due to step down from the Politburo Standing Committee. But there is speculation that Xi might defy the rule to keep his key ally on for another term.

More from the South China Morning Post :
China's new graft-busters will have the power of interrogation
Xi accuses fallen officials of 'political conspiracies'
The Chinese Communist Party graft-buster's big shot at a lasting legacy

Chen Daoyin, from Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, said the CCDI's high-profile "house-cleaning" was meant to bolster its authority and pave the way for Wang to stay in office.

Chen said Wang inherited his team from the previous leadership, with many of them elected at previous party congresses.

"The 19th party congress will surely witness a reshuffle that strictly follows Xi's will. The CCDI will also go through a reshuffle according to Wang's will," he said.

Veteran China watcher Johnny Lau Yui-siu said the move was part of a bigger push to "purify" the leadership team at all levels of the party ahead of its congress.

Follow CNBC International on Twitter and Facebook.