Not so long ago, this guy pictured above, named Zhou Yongkang, was one of China’s most dominant and feared political figures. In 2011, he was even named the 29th most powerful person in the world by Forbes.
Zhou was powerful because from 2007 to 2012, he was China’s chief of security and one of the nine members of the Chinese Communist Party’s all powerful Politiburo Standing Committee.
Despite having no experience in policing, his position meant he was in charge of the regime’s police, paramilitary forces, domestic intelligence agencies, prisons, labor camps and re-education centers, plus the court system. The budget Zhou oversaw to do all of this was larger than that of China’s military.
It might be worthwhile to mention at this point that Zhou and his family were already incredibly wealthy, thanks in a large part to his time in control of China’s state run oil industry.
However, let’s jump to now and you’ll find that Zhou, his family, and associates are currently in a world of trouble. This tweet of a cartoon from a state run paper last year will give you an idea of how he’s now being viewed.
More recently, state run media announced on Friday morning local time that the 73-year-old has been officially charged with “taking bribes, abusing executive power, and the intentional disclosure of state secrets.”
Given how the courts are politically controlled in China, it’s expected that Zhou will be found guilty of these charges, making him the highest ranked Party official to be sentenced for graft-related crime.
Zhou may even get the death penalty.
But this has all been brewing for sometime. It was first publicly acknowledged that Zhou was being investigated for corruption in 2013. By March 2014, Chinese authorities were also said to have seized assets valued around $14.5 billion from Zhou’s family members and acquaintances, reported Reuters.
What’s more, there have also been arrests and detentions of hundreds of Zhou’s family and allies. It’s all being carried out under President Xi Jinping’s so-called crackdown on corruption, and Zhou is Xi’s biggest scalp so far.
Prior to now, the biggest fall was former Politburo member Bo Xilai, who was in 2013 given a life sentence for corruption and abuse of power. Bo and Zhou were close allies.
Going by this tweet below, you may appreciate how having links to Zhou will not do you any favors in China.
While these crackdowns are being touted by state media as Xi’s anti-corruption campaign, in reality this is all largely about Xi getting rid of Party factions and perceived threats to his power. There were earlier reports that Zhou and Bo were trying to stop Xi’s accession to being Party leader, with even some reports of assassination attempts and an attempted coup.
Now that Xi has been bold enough to bring down someone as powerful as Zhou, some China watchers say that he could also target a former leader of the Chinese Communist Party, Jiang Zemin.
Zhou and Bo were both key allies of Jiang who sought to maintain enormous influence in the Party apparatus through an established network. Both men were also fast-tracked through the Party’s ranks because of their willingness to be instrumental in the mass persecution of Falun Gong practitioners that Jiang instigated in 1999.
For more interesting particulars about Zhou and what he has done, see this episode of China Uncensored from August last year.