China's leaders put one of their own on trial for corruption

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The Independent Online
THE top echelon of the Chinese Communist Party has finally decided to put one of its own in the dock for corruption. The long-awaited trial of Chen Xitong, the disgraced former Peking party chief and Politburo member, will take place soon, it was announced yesterday.

The Supreme Court Procurator, General Zhang Siqing, yesterday told the National People's Congress (NPC) that Mr Chen, 67, would be charged with embezzlement and dereliction of duty.

Mr Chen was sacked as Peking party secretary in April 1995 after Wang Baosen, a vice-mayor of Peking, shot himself rather than face corruption charges.

Subsequent reports said that 18.3 billion yuan (pounds 1.3 billion) had been embezzled from Peking's funds during Mr Chen's tenure, implicating a ring of corrupt officials.

Mr Wang and Mr Chen were said to have had a string of villas and apartments for their relatives and mistresses. Mr Chen disappeared from view after April 1995, but was not thrown out of the party until last autumn.

His is a test case for whether the highest ranking officials must also clean up their act. During recent anti-crime crackdowns, lesser mortals were swiftly executed for financial crimes such as VAT receipt fraud. Mr Chen's son has already been sentenced to 12 years in jail for corruption.

Sadly, the trial is certain to be held behind closed doors, with only a sanitised version appearing in the official media.

Although his crimes are well above the necessary threshold, Chen is very unlikely to receive the death sentence. Any jail term would probably be served under house arrest.

Corruption is a way of life in China. Mr Zhang said Chinese prosecutors investigated 387,352 cases of corruption, bribery, embezzlement and dereliction of duty between 1993 and 1997. The cases prevented direct economic losses of 22.92 billion yuan (pounds 1.7 billion), but only represent the tip of the iceberg.

Meanwhile, the deputies to the NPC yesterday gave overwhelming support to a plan to halve the number of central government civil servants, with 2,814 delegates voting for the measure, 12 against, and 33 abstaining.