One party chief after another caught in probe in Kunming

One party chief after another caught in probe in Kunming
Former Kunming party chief Qiu He (left) was probed for corruption last month. His successor Zhang Tianxin was sacked last July after graft investigators found that he had abused his power for personal gain.

WHEN Chinese anti-graft officials announced recently that Mr Gao Jinsong was being investigated for corruption, the Communist Party chief for Kunming became part of an unwanted streak.

He was the city's third consecutive party boss to be probed and fired, after his predecessors were similarly hauled up and sacked.

The embarrassing fall of Mr Gao just eight months after he assumed leadership highlights a potential snag for the Communist Party amid the current corruption crackdown - and such a case could well happen again, observers say.

"The leadership would have tried to find someone clean, but this person can still be investigated for previous wrongdoings," Dr Zhang Ming from Renmin University told The Straits Times.

"Unless you want to choose someone fresh out of university, it's hard to guarantee" a totally unblemished record.

The authorities in Yunnan province, of which Kunming is the capital, announced last Friday that Mr Gao was suspected of having committed "serious violations of party discipline and law", a euphemism for corruption.

He had replaced Mr Zhang Tianxin, who was sacked last July after graft investigators found that he had abused his power for personal gain. Mr Zhang's predecessor Qiu He was probed for corruption as well last month.

Such probes have taken place in other cities as well, according to Chinese media reports. Besides Kunming, Taiyuan (in Shanxi province), Maoming (Guangdong) and Dexing (Shanxi) have seen at least three current or former party chiefs probed or sacked.

In Taiyuan, the capital of Shanxi, party chief Shen Weichen was investigated last April, followed by his successor Chen Chuanping last August.

Hou Wujie, who was the party chief in Taiyuan from 2000 to 2001, was found guilty of corruption in September 2006.

Analysts say the phenomenon of numerous Communist Party chiefs from one city being probed could become more commonplace, particularly in the less developed provinces.

Dr Chen Gang, from the East Asian Institute at the National University of Singapore, noted that the position of party secretary in a city is a powerful one that comes with potential opportunities to gain kickbacks.

"The capital cities are especially prone to corruption," he told The Straits Times.

"But even the smaller cities will have many infrastructure and construction projects that need approval from the top party leader."

Furthermore, in smaller cities or less developed provinces, politics are more likely to be dominated by one or two party factions, said Dr Willy Lam from the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

"If power is concentrated with one faction, promotions to key appointments tend to be given to people within the same faction. With the same network, when one person is investigated, it's likely that there will be a knock-on effect."

Mr Gao, a Yunnan native who rose through the party ranks in the province, is suspected of paying bribes of several million yuan to Mr Bai Enpei, a former party chief of the province, Chinese publication Caixin quoted a source close to the investigation as saying.

Mr Bai, who was Yunnan's party head from 2001 to 2011, was placed under investigation last August.

Dr Lam said the central leadership may continue targeting more lower-level leaders, having already made a statement with several arrests of high-ranking officials in the past two years.

While the fall of Mr Gao may have been embarrassing for the authorities and exposed an inability to find clean successors, Dr Zhang feels it is unlikely to have much repercussion among the Chinese public. "In their eyes, no official is clean anyway."

Chiefs in trouble

KUNMING

Qiu He: In office from December 2007 to December 2011; investigated last month.

Zhang Tianxin: December 2011 to last July; sacked last July.

Gao Jinsong: from last August to this month; under probe this month.

TAIYUAN

Hou Wujie: January 2000 to September 2001; found guilty of corruption in September 2006.

Shen Weichen: January 2006 to September 2010; investigated last April.

Chen Chuanping: September 2010 to last August; investigated last August.

MAOMING

Zhou Zhenhong: November 2002 to May 2007; probed in January 2012.

Luo Yinguo: April 2007 to February 2011; investigated in February 2011.

Liang Yimin: February 2013 to last November; investigated last October.

DEXING

Cheng Aiping: October 1997 to December 2000; found guilty of corruption in January 2009.

Wu Zuguo: December 2000 to June 2003; found guilty of graft in November 2003.

Xu Yuejin: June 2003 to December 2009; found guilty of graft in July 2011.

He Jin: May 2011 to last September; investigated last September.

chengwee@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Apr 14, 2015.
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