China ex-security chief Zhou Yongkang charged with corruption and disclosing state secrets



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BEIJING — China's former security boss Zhou Yongkang has been formally charged with corruption and leaking of state secrets, setting the stage for him to become the highest-level politician to stand trial in China in more than three decades.

The long-expected indictment, announced Friday by the Supreme People's Procuratorate on its website, followed a lengthy investigation that also had scrutinized Zhou's former allies in government and the oil industry.

Zhou, a former member of the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee, had been under investigation since late 2013.

Zhou is the highest-level official charged as part of President Xi Jinping's anti-corruption campaign that began in late 2012. He would be the highest politician to stand trial since the 1981 treason trial of Mao Zedong's wife and other members of the "Gang of Four" who persecuted political opponents during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution.

Although the case against Zhou has been touted by state media as an example of the party's determination to fight corruption regardless of one's rank, it also has been widely perceived as part of factional politics in the ruling party's uppermost echelon and the removal of a potential rival for Xi.

"Corruption commonly exists among the party's senior officialdom, and so it looks like Zhou is another example of being the loser of a power struggle," said Zhang Lifan, a Beijing-based commentator and historian.

The procuratorate said Zhou was being charged with bribe-taking, abuse of power and intentionally leaking state secrets. It characterized the allegations against him as especially severe, and said he took "huge amounts" of bribes, but gave no details of the accusations.

It is unclear how open Zhou's trial will be, or when it will take place. However, the trial of another high-profile politician targeted in the crackdown, Bo Xilai, came about a month after his indictment in July 2013.

The charge against Zhou of leaking state secrets could provide a reason for authorities to close the trial, or at least part of it, and avoid the possible disclosure of political infighting at the party's highest levels.

Zhou was once perceived as untouchable with a vast patronage network covering the southwestern province of Sichuan where he was once party boss to the state oil sector, police and courts.

As China's security chief, he oversaw the country's domestic spy agencies, a position that afforded him access to information on other high-ranking politicians who might pose a threat to him.

Zhou spent the early part of his career in the oil industry, rising through the ranks over several decades to become the general manager of China National Petroleum Corp., one of the world's biggest energy companies, in 1996.

A series of senior figures from the state-owned oil industry have been detained in the anti-corruption crackdown.

Last month, Jiang Ziemin, the former chairman of the stated-owned parent of PetroChina Ltd., Asia's biggest oil producer, was indicted on bribery charges. Jiang is believed to have been an associate of Zhou, though prosecutors have not cited any link between the two cases.

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