China rules private clubs off-limits for party officials

BEIJING (REUTERS) - China's ruling Communist Party has banned officials from belonging to or visiting private clubs, saying they are often used as venues for illicit deals or sexual liaisons, in the latest move to stamp out pervasive corruption.

President Xi Jinping has pursued an aggressive drive against corruption since coming to power, vowing to pursue high-flying"tigers" as well as lowly "flies", warning that the problem is so serious it could threaten the party's power.

He has already ordered crackdowns on everything from banquets to funeral arrangements, and has now turned his attention to private clubs, which have proliferated in Chinese cities, ostensibly offering a quiet place for meetings or socialising.

In a statement issued late on Monday, the Central Commission for Discipline and Inspection, the party's anti-graft watchdog, said officials who go to these clubs would face severe penalties.

"Some party officials frequented private clubs, enjoying themselves with feasting and other entertainment, some even engaging in power-for-money or power-for-sex deals," the watchdog said.

These practices have a "serious negative effect on Party and political work styles and social ethics", it said.

"Such clubs are illegally established and operated, disregard the public interest and are hotbeds of extravagance and corruption."

State media have carried lurid tales of the goings-on in such clubs and the huge amounts of money charged for extravagant meals in luxurious surroundings, all at odds with Xi's other campaign for official frugality and for officials to show they are no different from ordinary people.

"Public anger has been rising against private clubs, which are often illicitly built with public resources, sometimes in historical buildings or parks, and frequented by the powerful and rich," the official Xinhua news agency said.

The anti-graft watchdog said that officials have been asked to promise they will neither enter nor accept membership of such private clubs.

"Violators will be strictly punished and their cases exposed to deter others," it said.