Tale of abuse and revenge behind fall of China 'tiger'

Tale of abuse and revenge behind fall of China 'tiger'
This picture taken on February 1, 2012 shows former top Communist official in Jiangxi province, Su Rong, gesturing as he speaks during a meeting in Nanchang, in eastern China's Jiangxi province.

BEIJING - When Chinese official Zhou Jianhua refused to tell Communist Party investigators he had received massive bribes, he says they beat him and forced him to drink toilet water until he confessed.

As a crackdown on corruption pushed by Chinese President Xi Jinping ensnares a growing list of senior officials, Zhou's account - in a recording obtained by AFP - offers a rare glimpse inside the ruling Party's opaque internal disciplinary system.

Lawyers say his case demonstrates how the faction-riven graft investigations can mask power struggles and are carried out with little respect for the law.

"They used my relatives as hostages, and tortured me unrelentingly until I accepted the fabricated charges," Zhou - handed a suspended death sentence earlier this year - told his lawyers in a recorded meeting.

The Party's internal justice system, known as "shuanggui", operates without oversight from judicial authorities and has been increasingly criticised by China's legal community.

More than 15 officials have reportedly died from abuses in "shuanggui" since 2007.

Xi has vowed to take down high-ranking "tigers" as well as low-level "flies" in an anti-corruption push introduced in response to widespread public anger over endemic graft.

Zhou's case was thrust into the spotlight last month when one such tiger - the former top Communist official in Jiangxi province, Su Rong - was placed under investigation.

Zhou says his own fall came swiftly after he accused Su's wife of corruption, and was payback from his party superior.

Red envelope

For years Zhou was a loyal Communist Party member and successful bureaucrat in Xinyu in Jiangxi, known for its enormous steel plant, where he rose to become head of the city People's Congress, the local legislature.

Like his colleagues, he earned little but amassed enough money - sometimes through illicit means - for his wife to travel to Britain and other countries.

But in 2011 Zhou began to suspect he might be targeted by an inquiry, and took the risky step of telling a Party anti-corruption team that Su's wife had been illegally profiting from land deals in Xinyu.

Weeks later, several of Zhou's associates were taken into police custody and he was informed that Su had ordered the same team to investigate him.

In January 2012 Communist officials detained Zhou and took him to a centre where he would be held for nearly six months without any access to a lawyer, normal practice under "shuanggui".

"He felt that because he reported Su Rong's wife, he was being targeted as revenge," said Zhou Ze, one of China's most outspoken human rights lawyers, who now represents the former bureaucrat.

Zhou told investigators that he had accepted around 600,000 yuan (S$120,498) in bribes, saying this was customary among local officials, who each New Year exchange red envelopes bursting with cash.

"Everyone takes (red envelopes), so I took them too," Zhou admitted in a written account confirmed by Zhou Ze.

But when he refused to confess to larger bribes of around 10 million yuan, the physical abuse began.

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