China's ex-security chief 'unlikely to get light sentence'

China's ex-security chief 'unlikely to get light sentence'
Former security czar Zhou Yongkang on the front page of the China Daily at a news-stand in Hong Kong yesterday. His expulsion from the CCP seems imminent and the likelihood of an open criminal trial is high, say experts.

Former security czar Zhou Yongkang, who is at the centre of China's biggest corruption probe in history, is unlikely to get off lightly, experts say.

The sensational trial of fallen political star Bo Xilai last year where proceedings were aired live on a micro-blog could even be dwarfed if Beijing decides to go ahead with an open criminal trial for Mr Zhou - a scenario that is likely, experts say.

In a terse statement on Tuesday, the official Xinhua news agency said that Mr Zhou, who retired from the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) in 2012, is being investigated by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for "serious disciplinary violation". The term is typically a euphemism for corruption, signalling that President Xi Jinping's anti-graft campaign has now reached PSC members long regarded as untouchable.

Mr Xi's two immediate predecessors - Mr Hu Jintao and Mr Jiang Zemin - had given their consent for the probe, allowing Mr Xi to break the unwritten rule, Reuters reported, quoting sources.

While the heaviest punishment meted out in such internal investigations is expulsion from the party, the case is often passed to the courts. The expelled official is then charged and put on trial.

Already, Mr Zhou's expulsion from the CCP seems imminent.

Notably missing from Tuesday's Xinhua report was the honorific "comrade", indicating that he will be - or has already been - booted out of the party, experts note.

With Mr Xi repeatedly stressing the need to uphold the rule of law, the likelihood that Mr Zhou's case will be brought before the court in an open trial is also high.

"Legal procedures are symbolically important and necessary to convince the public that the probe is not just a political or power struggle, but a matter of justice," Professor Huang Jing of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy told The Straits Times.

To cut deals or allow for leniency in such a politically significant case - even if Mr Zhou were to cooperate with investigators - would make Mr Xi lose political capital and legitimacy, he added.

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