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The nation"s top anti-graft watchdog is determined to stamp out illegal activities among officials, as Zhang Yan reports.

For the past five years, the battle against corruption has been a top priority, with disciplinary watchdogs at all levels investigating and apprehending rogue Party officials.

Since the campaign was launched by President Xi Jinping in 2012, more than 280 officials at the ministerial and provincial levels, or higher, have been investigated over allegations of "serious violations of Party discipline", a common euphemism for corruption.

They include several powerful "tigers", such as former national security chief Zhou Yongkang and Su Rong, former vice-chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People"s Political Consultative Conference.

"No matter what their levels, officials involved in corruption will stand trial and receive judgment according to the law," said Yang Xiaodu, minister of supervision and deputy director of the Communist Party of China"s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the top anti-graft watchdog.

Tighter supervision

The CCDI said it has developed effective procedures to tighten supervision within the CPC to ensure that members follow the rules, eliminate graft "at the roots" and tackle an issue that has a bearing on the future of both the Party and the nation.

During Xi"s first term in office, the commission carried out 12 rounds of inspection into 277 Party organizations and bodies, achieving a full inspection of all Party organs.

"The inspections acted as a sharp sword for supervision within the Party, leading to more than 60 percent of the valuable clues we received about potential corruption," said Li Wanjun, a bureau-level inspector with the CCDI"s central inspection team.

Official data shows that from late 2012 to the end of August more than 240,000 officials nationwide were accused of breaching the Party"s frugality code. The commission has released a list of 167 typical offenses on its website.

One example occurred between 2014 and 2016, when Kong Lingbin, deputy director of the environmental protection bureau of the Ningxia Hui autonomous region, violated Party rules and accepted gifts and cash from subordinates valued at 50,000 yuan, ($7,630) as well as a refueling card for his car worth 5,000 yuan.

Kong was given a serious warning by the CPC and his illicit gains were confiscated.

Meanwhile, in February last year, Ai Geqing, a senior official at the public security bureau in Baoshan, Yunnan province, broke Party rules by accepting gifts and cash worth 29,530 yuan from 56 people. She received the same punishment as Kong.

"Our clampdown has gained crushing momentum and halted the spread of corruption," Yang said, adding that the task of supervising Party members and building a loyal, clean and responsible government will be arduous.

"We will never let up against graft, and we must especially stay alert to any election fraud during the Party"s key meeting," he said, referring to the 19th National Congress of the CPC.

Learning from scandals

When he addressed a CCDI meeting earlier this year, President Xi said Party organizations at all levels must strengthen their management and strictly adhere to the rules to ensure healthy elections.

"Members who show excellent morality and ability should be chosen and promoted," he said.

The congress will see the election of the new leadership group and herald a major reshuffle at various levels of the CPC and government.

In a recent editorial, People"s Daily, the Party"s official newspaper, called for zero tolerance toward corruption during the elections. "Any malpractice, such as bribery and soliciting or buying votes, should be investigated and, if proved, severely punished," it said, adding that CPC members should draw lessons from recent political scandals that harmed the public interest and posed serious threats to social stability.

One example occurred in Liaoning province in 2013, when 523 of the 616 deputies who took part in elections for the provincial people"s congress were suspected of offering bribes. They all resigned or were disqualified from taking their seats.

Overall, more than 950 officials were punished for being involved, according to a CCDI statement. Most received administrative punishments, while a number of senior provincial officials were charged with destroying the credibility of the election, abuse of power and bribery. They are awaiting sentencing.

Greater supervision

Song Dajun, deputy chief of the Party work style supervision office of the CCDI, said the authorities will continue to turn up the heat on corrupt officials through tight supervision and tough penalties. Violators face administrative punishments ranging from warnings or demotion to expulsion from the CPC, he said, while those who commit criminal offenses will be handed over to prosecutors.

Anti-graft enforcers at the local and national levels will be punished if they conceal, or fail to disclose in good time, information that implicates Party officials, he added.

Observers such as Jiang Laiyong, an anti-graft expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, have praised the CCDI"s efforts to target election fraud ahead of the congress.

"The Party must urgently update its rules to meet the real challenges, as well as further improve the supervision system and standardize nomination procedures to prevent graft during elections," said Jiang, who is also a senior researcher at Tsinghua University"s China Anti-Corruption Research Center.

He said managers who fail to monitor their subordinates" behavior should also face more-severe penalties.

In addition to guarding against election fraud, CCDI inspectors will pay close attention to preventing corruption at key times of the year, such as Spring Festival and the National Day holiday, as well as cracking down on officials who spend public funds on banquets, gifts, trips, entertainment or private clubs.

After tackling a number of high-ranking targets, the agency also plans to focus on fighting graft at the grassroots to gain greater public support.

"Apart from fighting high-ranking tigers, disciplinary officers should pay more attention to combating corrupt grassroots officials, so more people will experience and share the fruits of the anti-graft campaign," said Gao Bo, a political researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. "I"m confident about the success of the anti-graft campaign and its benefits for all citizens."

Overseas investigations

The CCDI is also continuing to hunt corrupt officials who have fled overseas to escape punishment.

The commission is leading the Central Anti-Corruption Coordination Group, which in 2014 launched Sky Net, a far-reaching operation to snare economic fugitives abroad and confiscate ill-gotten gains.

By the end of August, officials suspected of economic crimes had returned to China from more than 90 countries and regions, including the United States, Canada and New Zealand, and illicit assets worth 9.36 billion yuan had been recovered, the commission said.

In April 2015, Interpol issued red notices - international arrest warrants - for the 100 most-wanted Chinese fugitives. So far, 43 have returned from more than 16 countries and regions, including No 1 target Yang Xiuzhu, former deputy director of construction in Zhejiang province, who returned in November after spending 13 years in the US.

In July, Yang, 70, pleaded guilty to embezzling more than 19 million yuan of public funds and receiving bribes worth 7.35 million yuan. She is awaiting sentencing.

According to the CCDI, most of the 57 most-wanted fugitives are still at large in the US, Canada and New Zealand.

"These countries are our priority, so we must strengthen law-enforcement cooperation, such as intelligence sharing and case investigation, with our counterparts overseas," Cai Wei, deputy director of the commission"s international cooperation department, said.

"There is no safe haven. No matter where a suspect runs to, we will make every effort to arrest them and bring them to justice."

Contact the writer at [email protected]

(China Daily 10/19/2017 page6)