The Supreme People’s Procuratorate announced the long-expected indictment on its website yesterday following a lengthy investigation that also scrutinized Zhou’s former allies in government and the oil industry, but gave no new substantial details of the accusations against him.
A former member of the Communist Party’s all-powerful politburo standing committee, the dour-faced and once-feared Zhou had been under investigation since late 2013, and has been unavailable for comment since then.
“Announcing the charges against him means the beginning of the end for Zhou,” said Dali Yang, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, reflecting the widely held notion that Zhou’s conviction was virtually assured.
Zhou, 72, 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 face court 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 showing 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 charges against Zhou are not political. Still, the country’s Supreme Court last month said in a report that Zhou and Bo Xilai – another top official to fall from grace in the corruption crackdown – had both engaged in political activities that damaged the unity of the ruling Communist Party. The wording left it unclear whether the two were being accused of plotting together or separately.
Yang, the Chicago-based analyst, said the case against Zhou reflects the Xi administration’s need to rid the country’s vast and judicial apparatus of the influence of the former security czar and his allies, as the government seeks to bolster the legitimacy of the courts.
The prosecutors said Zhou was charged with bribe-taking, abuse of power and intentionally leaking state secrets. It characterised the allegations against him as especially severe, and said he took “huge amounts” of bribes, but gave no substantial details.