China details powers of new 'super' anti-graft body

National People's Congress (NPC) vice-chairman Li Jianguo speaks during the fourth plenary session of the NPC at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 13, 2018.
National People's Congress (NPC) vice-chairman Li Jianguo speaks during the fourth plenary session of the NPC at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 13, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING - China's newly created "super" anti-graft agency will have formidable powers under a draft Bill which went through its third reading in the National People's Congress (NPC) or Parliament on Tuesday (March 13).

The new National Supervision Commission - formed from the merger of the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) feared anti-graft watchdog and various supervision and corruption control departments - will have oversight of all government employees and CCP members.

It will have the power to conduct searches, seize property and freeze assets as well as detain suspects for up to six months as part of corruption investigations.

The draft law was read a day after a constitutional amendment created the commission and designated it as a new state organ, ranked alongside the central government and above the judiciary, accountable to the NPC.

The new law would enhance the leadership of the CCP on anti-corruption campaigns, said NPC vice-chairman Li Jianguo.

"In the face of a tough and complicated situation, our existing supervisory institutions were clearly unable to meet the demands of the battle against corruption and the campaign to clean up the party," he said.

Under China's current system, the party's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) has wide latitude to investigate CCP members and government supervisory agencies watch over civil servants while the procuratorates investigate and prosecute cases.

Divided powers and overlapping functions meant the agencies did not operate in harmony, leaving gaps in supervision, Mr Li said.

He added that with 80 per cent of civil servants and 95 per cent of leading officials being CCP members, it was "inevitable" that China had sought to harmonise party and state supervision.

Under the new system state supervision agencies will share staff and offices with their party discipline inspection counterparts at supervisory commissions already in existence at the provincial, city and county levels across China.

Mr Li said a key reason for the new law is that it would codify the methods and powers that could be used during an investigation, replacing the "long-lingering legal problem" of shuanggui used by the CCDI.

Shuanggui allowed for indefinite detention of a party member being investigated for corruption, with reports alleging torture and other harsh treatments being used to extract confessions.

The new supervision law states that detention can only be used in specific conditions, such as if the case is "complicated" or if the suspect is a flight risk. Other safeguards include that all interrogations must be recorded, and that in most cases family members must be informed within 24 hours of the detention.

The director of the supervision commission also cannot serve for more than two five-year terms, and cannot concurrently be on the NPC Standing Committee.

Experts such as Professor Liu Junsheng from the China University of Political Science and Law said the new law primarily serves to provide a legal foundation for the practice of detaining corruption suspects.

"We know that the CCDI has investigated non-party cadres, such as those in charge of state-owned enterprises, even though that is legally problematic," said Prof Liu. "As shuanggui there was an argument that it violates human rights, but as the law all public servants can be subject to detention."

But Professor of Administrative Law at Wuhan University Law School, Professor Qin Qianhong, said the broadly-worded language of the new law also leaves plenty of room to interpret the scope of investigative powers.

"There are some deficiencies with the new law, such as the vagueness in the conditions for which detention is called for." said Prof Qin.

"It's also not clear how much detainees' rights will be protected, as the 69 articles do not provide concrete details for how investigations will be carried out," he added.

The draft will be put to a vote as a formality on March 20, the last day of the NPC meetings, and should pass.