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Chinese Communist elite rocked by military scandal

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By BENJAMIN KANG LIM AND BEN BLANCHARD IN BEIJING

A DISGRACED senior Chinese army officer is accused of selling hundreds of military positions and raking in huge amounts of money, in what is thought to be China’s biggest military scandal in two decades.

In a renewed campaign against the abuse of power, Chinese president Xi Jinping has vowed to go after both top-level “tigers” and low-tier “flies”, warning that the issue is so severe it threatens the ruling Communist Party’s survival.

Lieutenant General Gu Junshan, 57, who was sacked as deputy logistics chief of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in 2012, has been charged with corruption, taking bribes, misuse of public funds and abuse of power, state news agency Xinhua reported. He will be tried by a military court, it added.

The charges signal the determination of Mr Xi to pursue wrongdoing in the upper ranks of the military, which wields considerable influence in leadership circles.

The case could overshadow what had been China’s most dramatic military scandal to date – a vast smuggling ring uncovered in the late 1990s involving both the military and government officials. The ringleader, Lai Changxing, was jailed for life.

Three sources with ties to the leadership or military said one of the key crimes Gu is suspected of is selling hundreds of promotions. One source said: “If a senior colonel [not in line for promotion] wanted to become a major general, he had to pay up to 30 million yuan (£2.9m).”

Lower-ranking positions were sold for hundreds of thousands of yuan, the sources said.

The buying and selling of military positions has been an open secret, but Chinese media have avoided the taboo subject.

Examples of abuse of power include the leasing of military-owned land to private firms, selling military licence plates – which entitle drivers to free petrol – illegally occupying military apartments or taking kickbacks when purchasing supplies.

Army officers who paid bribes to be promoted have been questioned, but the party leadership has not decided whether to demote, discharge or prosecute them because so many people were involved.

The party expelled Gu from its ranks before he was indicted by military prosecutors.

Since becoming chairman of the Central Military Commission – China’s commander-in-chief – in late 2012, the president has spent much of his time visiting barracks in an effort to boost military morale.

Mr Xi has also banned binge drinking, waste and extravagance, in an attempt to make the PLA combat-ready in the face of rising tensions with China’s regional neighbours.

Xu Caihou, 70, who retired as vice-chairman of the state Central Military Commission last year, was essentially under house arrest while helping in the investigation into Gu.

As one of Gu’s main supporters in his rise through the ranks, Xu was entangled in Gu’s alleged misdeeds. “Gu has implicated Xu Caihou” during questioning by investigators, a source said.

The party leadership faces a dilemma over whether to prosecute Xu, who is undergoing treatment for bladder cancer.

In January, the Chinese investigative magazine Caixin said prosecutors had seized objects, including a solid gold statue of Mao Zedong, from Gu’s mansion in the central province of Henan.

Investigators seized millions of yuan in cash and several kilos of gold from Gu’s residence in his home province, called “The General’s Mansion”.

China stepped up a crackdown on rampant corruption in the military in the late 1990s. The Communist Party has struggled to contain public anger at a string of scandals.

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