A Corruption Trail Leads to Jiang Zemin

The headquarters of China’s Central Military Commission (CMC) is an imposing, unmarked, carefully guarded 10-story building in west Beijing. It holds grim secrets for former Chinese Communist Party chief Jiang Zemin.

The CMC edifice is where Vice-Admiral Wang Shouye was sentenced to death last April for accepting 160 million yuan (US$20.1 million) in bribes. In December the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. He is the highest-ranking officer in the People’s Liberation Army to be sentenced for corruption.

The case, which involved dozens of senior officers, was so serious that the party has introduced new regulations to try to stop rampant corruption in the military. The case has also given party chief Hu Jintao new evidence against his predecessor, Jiang, who worked closely with Wang. Such material is reportedly expected to prove invaluable to Hu in the fierce struggle for power and appointments ahead of the 17th party congress this autumn.

From 1995 to 2001, Wang, one of the country’s five senior admirals, was the officer in the PLA General Logistics Department in charge of infrastructure and was given the job by Jiang Zemin of constructing the army headquarters. What Jiang had in mind was not the CMC building but the headquarters of a new body, the China National Security Commission, which he intended to set up and run after stepping down from his posts as state president and head of the party. The party general secretary is also chairman of the CMC, which exercises control over the 2.4 million strong People’s Liberation Army.

Jiang had intended to run the new commission until the Beijing Olympics in 2008. According to sources in Bejing who track these events, Jiang told Wang to spare no expense and Wang took him at his word. The cost of the building was over one billion yuan, with the most expensive floor to be occupied by Jiang himself. Fully computerized and with state-of-the-art security equipment, it has underground tunnels which connect it to the Great Hall of the People, the Zhongnanhai complex that serves as the party’s central headquarters, and other buildings used by party leaders so they can bypass surface roads and move unseen by the public.

Jiang showered Wang with honors, giving him the title of ‘outstanding cadre’ for four of the years between 1995 and 2001 and promoting him to the post of Vice Admiral, one of five deputy commanders of the Chinese navy. But Jiang’s plan was never realized and, once he had left office, his dream commission was never established. Instead, the building became the headquarters of the existing CMC.

Wang did another big favor for his patron. He was one of the main organizers of a concert for Song Zuying, one of China’s most famous singers and a close friend – perhaps even the mistress – of Jiang, in the Golden Concert Hall in Vienna, Austria, in November 2003. The song-and-dance troupe she belongs to is under the navy. Since Song’s repertoire of folk and traditional songs is not the kind of serious classical music the concert hall normally hosts, it required considerable lobbying by Wang and the distribution of free tickets to ensure a successful performance. He sent personnel to Vienna to help arrange the concert and make the Chinese embassy cooperate.

By the early 2000s, Wang’s colleagues at Naval Headquarters were reporting his bribe-taking to the military’s anti-corruption unit but Jiang was strong enough to block any investigation.

But once Jiang stepped down as party leader in November 2002, an investigation began in earnest, assisted by documents received from a woman named Jiang, one of Wang’s several mistresses, who had a son by him.

When Wang refused to acknowledge the boy as his son, she demanded three million yuan in compensation. He offered one million yuan and threatened her, so she wrote petitions of complaint to the CMC and Naval Headquarters.

On the morning of December 23, 2005, Wang went to the headquarters for a meeting and was told by security officers of the General Staff that he was under arrest. He reached for his briefcase but officers stopped him and put him in handcuffs. Inside the briefcase were two German-made pistols, fully loaded, with which he apparently planned to kill himself, according to the government-run Xinhua News Service.

Although Wang’s indictment said he took 160 million yuan in bribes from contractors on buildings he commissioned, of which the CMC headquarters was the largest and most expensive, unofficial estimates put the value of the bribes much higher, at over 300 million. Officers who searched his two homes in Beijing and Nanjing discovered 52 million yuan in cash in a refrigerator and a microwave, and another US$2.5 million in US currency in a washing machine.

Wang’s death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in December because he co-operated with investigators and told them of dozens of other officers who were involved. Among them, five have been expelled from the PLA and six others demoted.

He also is said to have told investigators that he paid Jiang Zemin bribes worth five million yuan, according to Hong Kong Chinese-language newspapers.

As in other Communist states, the military in China is corrupt because it is virtually above the law. Only the military can investigate wrongdoing by its own members, who are not subject to supervision by the media, the police or the civil justice system. More so than perhaps any other country, China’s military has functioned as the wellsprings of power. The People’s Liberation Army, now 2.3 million strong, was formed by Mao Zedong in 1923, decades before he came to power.

Prior to 1998, the PLA was involved in a vast web of state-owned companies ranging from karaoke bars to industrial and production companies, partly as a method of offsetting budgetary shortfalls. Ultimately, the military ran as many as 20,000 companies, which alarmed officials because they began to increasingly involve bribery, smuggling and inefficiency.

Jiang ultimately ordered the military out of business in 1998. The army complied, although it continues to enjoy numerous privileges. Its vehicles, for example, do not have to pay road tolls levied on other cars. It has its own network of rail cars, airports, trucks, farms and factories that are not subject to external control. The media reports nothing about the military except what is highly censored and praiseworthy.

Following the Wang scandal, the PLA announced new measures against “commercial bribery’ in the military last August. This covered exchanges between the armed forces and local people, including public bidding and procurement in construction, goods, materials and equipment, medical and health services, military communications and transportation, financial affairs, military supplies, telecommunications and outsourcing.

To secure contracts, bidders offer ‘rebates’, ‘labor service fees’ and pleasure trips to officers. From June 2006, PLA units were ordered to investigate their own commercial transactions for six months and report them to the anti-corruption bureau of the CMC.

In January, the PLA went further, issuing new regulations for the auditing of military contracts, aimed establishing a clear line of reporting to superiors and a more stringent approval procedure.

In 2006, according to the Xinhua news agency, the PLA audited 983 senior officers, of whom 26 were at the army level, 135 at the divisional level and 822 at the regimental level.

While the PLA has taken steps in reaction to the Wang scandal, Hu is keeping his ammunition against Jiang. Few expect him to act against the former leader himself or his son Jiang Mianheng, who has a wide range of business interests in Shanghai, but the bullets may be enough to ruin the careers of many of his associates.