Former Chinese justice minister sentenced to death for ‘bending the law for personal gains’

Fu Zhenghua, 67, had also served as the head of the Beijing municipal public security bureau and as vice-minister of public security

BEIJING: China on Thursday sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve a former justice minister, who spearheaded high-profile graft probes during his tenure, for taking bribes and “bending the law for personal gains”, state media reported.

Fu Zhenghua, 67, had also served as the head of the Beijing municipal public security bureau and as vice-minister of public security.

Fu’s indictment weeks ahead of the all-important Communist Party of China (CPC) congress in October indicates President Xi Jinping’s continued focus on “taking out the tigers” of corruption, part of the anti-graft campaign he began a decade ago.

As vice-minister, Fu was in-charge of a high-profile corruption investigation into Zhou Yonkang, who was himself China’s top security official and retired as a member of Communist party’s politburo standing committee, the country’s top decision-making body; Zhou received a life sentence in jail for corruption in 2015.

Fu, who became justice minister in 2018, was a rising star until corruption charges brought him down in 2021.

“Fu, former deputy head of the Committee on Social and Legal Affairs of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (after his tenure as justice minister), was accused of bribe-taking and bending the law for personal gains,” state-run China Daily said in a report on him on Thursday.

The court in Jilin was told by prosecutors that Fu took advantage of his position to seek gains for others regarding business operations, official positions and legal cases.

He is said to have illegally received “money and gifts worth 117 million yuan ($17.3 million) either directly or through his relatives,” the court was told.

In July when the court case began, prosecutors said: “During his tenure at the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau, Fu purposefully shielded his brother, who had severely breached the law, from criminal prosecution.”

The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), China’s corruption watchdog, had earlier said Fu also joined the “political gang” of Sun Lijun, former vice-minister of public security, ousted and prosecuted in 2021 for bribery, stock market manipulation and illegal gun possession.

In his final statement to the court in July, Fu had pleaded guilty and expressed remorse.

Under Chinese law, a death sentence with a reprieve usually means that the sentence could be commuted to a life sentence at the end of the two-year term depending on the accused’s behaviour.

President Xi Jinping’s decade-long anti-corruption drive has been one of his signature campaigns, which has also been used to purge rivals and the disloyal, say China watchers.

Xi had identified “corruption” as one of the primary “pressing issues” China faced when he took over as the general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in November, 2012.

The campaign since then has focussed on “swatting the flies” and “taking out the tigers” with “flies” being low-ranking officials and “tigers”, the high-ranking ones.

Since November 2012, discipline inspectors across the country had dealt with nearly 4.4 million cases concerning discipline violations as of April 2022, in which 4.7 million people were involved, official news agency Xinhua said in a report earlier this week.