Ex-CCP Politburo member admits taking $35m in bribes

Sun Zhengcai speaking during the Anhui province opening session as part of the National People's Congress in Beijing last year, before his fall from grace.
Sun Zhengcai speaking during the Anhui province opening session as part of the National People's Congress in Beijing last year, before his fall from grace.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Sun Zhengcai, once tipped as a successor to Xi Jinping, was then member of apex party panel

BEIJING • Former senior official Sun Zhengcai has admitted to taking bribes of more than 170 million yuan (S$35 million), Chinese state media said, the latest target of President Xi Jinping's unrelenting war on graft.

Sun, 54, was abruptly removed in July from his post as Communist Party chief of south-western Chongqing, one of China's most important cities, to be replaced by Mr Chen Min'er, who is close to Mr Xi.

Until then, Sun, the youngest of the 25 members of the ruling Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) decision-making Politburo, was considered a contender for top leadership. He was seen in some quarters as a potential successor to Mr Xi.

"I severely violated discipline and the law, and have been solemnly tried by law," Sun said in videos of his statement to a court in the northern city of Tianjin released by state broadcaster CCTV.

"I have only myself to blame and deserve my punishment. I completely accept (the charges). I sincerely admit my guilt and express regret," he said.

Prosecutors in February had charged Sun with accepting "huge sums" in bribes while in various posts going back 15 years in Chongqing, Beijing, the north-eastern province of Jilin, and during his term as minister of agriculture.

Between 2002 and 2017, Sun took advantage of his positions to provide help for certain units and individuals in project procurement, enterprise operation and promotion of official positions, according to an indictment by the first branch of the Tianjin People's Procuratorate.

It said he accepted money and property worth some 170 million yuan, either himself or through "certain affiliated persons".

Yesterday, the court said more than 130 people attended the trial, including members of the country's top political advisory board and media reporters.

The verdict will be released at a later date.

Since coming to power in 2012, President Xi has presided over a sweeping corruption crackdown, vowing to target both "tigers" and "flies", a reference to elite officials and ordinary bureaucrats.

Sun's case is testimony to the "fearless spirit and unwavering resolve" of the campaign against graft, the party's official People's Daily newspaper said.

"It again sends a clear signal: there is no such thing as a special party member in the face of party discipline and national law," it said in a commentary.

Sun was the first serving member of the elite Politburo to be placed under investigation, since Bo Xilai, his predecessor in Chongqing, was jailed for life in 2013.

Sun's case showed that the CCP had some concerns about potential vulnerabilities to its rule.

In October, senior party official Liu Shiyu congratulated Mr Xi for foiling the efforts of powerful officials who "plotted to usurp the party's leadership and seize state power".

Mr Liu listed former security czar Zhou Yongkang alongside Sun and Bo as part of the conspiracy, which was rumoured to have involved military officials. All three have been ousted from the CCP and arrested or jailed on corruption charges.

Sun was expelled from the CCP in September after an investigation by the party's disciplinary body found the politician had abused his position by taking bribes and trading power for sex.

When Sun became the Chongqing party chief in 2012, he was tasked with erasing Bo's influence on the municipality.

But last year, the party's discipline inspectors publicly rebuked him for failing to get the job done, and his downfall came months later.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 13, 2018, with the headline 'Ex-CCP Politburo member admits taking $35m in bribes'. Print Edition | Subscribe