A version of this article was first published on The Huffington Post
It took enormous courage in 2012 for a Chinese reporter to go into print to expose one of the Chinese Communist Party's most senior officials for taking bribes and building a fortune by abusing his public office. Reporter Luo Changping did just that and, as a result, on September 24, 2014, Liu Tienan, the former deputy head of the National Reform and Development Commission, pleaded guilty in a trial in the northern province of Hebei.
Luo Changping first wrote an article in Caijing, a widely read business magazine in December 2012, where he noted that a top official was involved in accepting bribes from major companies. He did not name the official in the magazine. But, the reporter then followed up on his own blog on China’s weibo online service with details about the corruption that involved Liu Tienan as well as members of his family. According to documents released by the court, Liu Tienan was accused of accepting about $5.8 million in bribes from five companies between 2002 and 2012. He also received a Porsche and a Beijing villa. Transcripts from the one-day trial show the 59-year-old tearfully confessed to the crimes. A verdict is expected to come at a later date. He faces ten years to life in prison. .
Luo's investigative reports came before China’s new president, Xi Jinping, launched his major campaign against corruption, which over the last 18 months has seen the arrest of hundreds of Communist Party senior officials. The trial of Liu Tienan is one of the first involving a very senior official engaged in abusing his Communist Party position to gain personal wealth. It is also unique in having been triggered by an investigation by a reporter. The reporting by Luo Cangping took place at a time when he could well have been arrested and imprisoned. His work was recognized last year when he received the prestigious annual Integrity Award from Transparency International, the global anti-corruption organization.
Corruption - Top Chinese News These Days
Despite the major attack on corruption launched by President Xi, it remains difficult for journalists to pursue investigations of abuse of power. The risks of arrest remain high. Media censorship remains pervasive. In a conversation that I had last year with reporter Luo Changping he argued that the concern that President Xi has about Communist Party discipline and public respect for the party is a driving force behind a long-term anti-corruption campaign. Luo said that as a result he believed it will gradually become easier for journalists to do the sort of work that he has pursued and which can lead to bringing even top officials to justice.
Today, the news of Party officials being investigated and arrested is creating major headlines across China. The trial of Liu Tienan had been given extensive coverage.
Underscoring the intensity of Xi Jinping's campaign was the announcement recently by the Communist Party that powerful former security chief Zhou Yongkang is under investigation for corruption. Zhou is the first former member of the top level Politburo to be arrested in China in many decades. For five years until he retired in 2012 he was the nation’s chief of security, directing the police and the intelligence services. He had enormous power over large parts of industry, notably in the energy sector as well. A number of his subordinates have been arrested in recent months.