China's former security chief Zhou Yongkang sentenced to life in prison

Former Chinese security chief Zhou Yongkang was sentenced on Thursday to life in prison on charges of bribery, abuse of power and leaking state secrets. -- PHOTO: REUTERS 
Former Chinese security chief Zhou Yongkang was sentenced on Thursday to life in prison on charges of bribery, abuse of power and leaking state secrets. -- PHOTO: REUTERS 

China on Thursday meted out a life imprisonment sentence to former security czar Zhou Yongkang, previously one of the country's most powerful men, after convicting him on abuse of power, taking bribes and revealing state secrets.

Zhou, 72, the highest-ranking Chinese official ever to be convicted on graft charges, pleaded guilty to the charges during a secret trial held on May 22 in coastal Tianjin municipality, reported the Xinhua news agency. He had been charged on Apr 3.

Sporting a crop of white hair, Zhou was shown on state broadcaster's 7pm primetime news bulletin on Thursday as saying that he was satisfied with the court judgment and would not be making an appeal. He had not been seen in public since Oct 2013. 

"Again, I plead guilty and express remorse over my crimes," he said.

The Xinhua report added that Zhou said he should bear responsibilities for his actions and that of his family members, which included taking bribes of 129.77 million yuan (S$27 million) as indicated in the judgment.

"I kept breaking the law and violating the party discipline for my personal relationships. There are objective facts over my crimes, which caused severe damage to the party and the country," Zhou said, adding that the handling of his case demonstrates the country's determination to uphold the rule of law.

Zhou was on the Communist Party's apex Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) until his retirement in November 2012 and had wielded immense influence for a decade through his role in heading the country's massive security apparatus.

There were expectations in some quarters that Zhou would be put through an open trial to underscore President Xi Jinping's pledge to deepen the rule of law in China, in the same way former Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai was tried in 2013.

But the Tianjin's First Intermediate People's Court said it had decided on a closed-door trial because "some of the criminal evidence involved state secrets" though it added that they "did not cause serious consequences".

The judgment said Zhou passed five top secret documents and one classified document to fortune-telling qigong master Cao Yongzheng, who was not cleared to receive them.

Several witnesses, mostly Zhou's former aides such as ex-state asset regulator Jiang Jiemin, took the stand while video testimonies of Zhou's wife Jia Xiaoye and eldest son Zhou Bin were produced in court.

The Xinhua report said Zhou, who was also stripped of his political rights for life and had his assets seized by the state, took bribes of 731,100 yuan from Jiang, who also stood trial earlier this year.

Zhou was also convicted of abusing power to obtain favours for his son Zhou Bin, and other relatives and associates, enabling them to earn some 2.13 billion yuan and causing economic loss of 1.49 billion yuan.

Although Zhou's case involved "especially huge amounts of bribes, the Tianjin court said it exercised leniency in the sentencing as he had confessed voluntarily and shown remorse over his crimes.

Also, he "found out only later about most of the bribes accepted by his family members and took the initiative in asking them to return all the monies", added the court.

kianbeng@sph.com.sg