China to set up new anti-graft office, official says

BEIJING (REUTERS) - China will set up a new anti-corruption bureau under its top prosecutor, a senior official said, in an attempt to streamline an aggressive campaign against graft.

President Xi Jinping has conducted a sweeping drive against corruption since assuming power two years ago. One of China's most senior former military officers, Xu Caihou, and former domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang are among many top officials who have been caught up in the anti-graft campaign.

Weak organisational structure and staffing limitations have plagued prosecutors' handling of corruption cases, Qiu Xueqiang, the Supreme People's Procuratorate (SPP) deputy procurator-general, told the official Xinhua news agency.

The ruling Communist Party has approved the establishment of a new anti-corruption general office under the prosecutor to fix those weaknesses, the Xinhua report published late on Sunday citied Qiu as saying.

The reforms would allow the SPP "to concentrate its energy to directly investigate big and important cases ... and effectively break through institutional barriers in handling cases", Qiu said. "We will regard this as an opportunity to strive to make the anti-corruption office into a smart, highly effective, specialized agency with the distinguishing features of Chinese investigation that possesses formidable strength, deterrence and credibility," he said.

The head of the agency would hold a vice ministerial rank, Qiu said, but he gave few other details.

Corruption investigations into China's leaders are often conducted first by the party's anti-graft watchdog, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, before the cases are referred to legal authorities.

The party has struggled to contain public anger at a seemingly endless stream of corruption scandals, which Xi has said threaten its legitimacy.

In July, authorities announced an investigation into Zhou Yongkang, 71, the most senior official to be implicated in a corruption scandal since the party swept to power in 1949.

However, critics argue it would be difficult to rid the party and government of a deeply engrained corruption problem without real reforms to China's political process.