Political corruption China is unlike any other country in the world. Usually, the charges on officials come with impressive money figures. It could be millions or billions of U.S. dollars.
Just last week, a former vice governor of Shanxi provincial government Yun Gongmin, received the death sentence for taking bribes of over 70 million dollars. Earlier this year, the former president of state-owned China Citic Bank Corporation Sun Deshun, pleaded guilty to accepting bribes worth over 155 million dollars.
In 2021, Chinese Vice-President Wang Qishan’s right-hand man Dong Hong faced trial for corruption charges. The case made headlines nationwide because Dong Hong himself was a former deputy leader of China’s anti-graft watchdog–CCDI. Prosecutors accused the former inspector of taking bribes of about 71 million dollars.
Chinese officials at all levels are engaged in corruption activities. The number of hunted-down officials under Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign since 2012 speaks for the fact. The amount of ill-gotten money and assets confiscated by the Chinese government is tremendous. However, with such a huge amount of money, how these corrupted officials spend them is rarely mentioned in both mainland and foreign media. But when looking at the most corrupted cases from the most prominent officials, we can somewhat get a glimpse of how rich they are and the way they distribute their assets.
Zhou Yongkang – Secretary of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission
Zhou Yongkang’s case is undoubtedly one of the ugliest corrupted cases in the Chinese Communist Party’s history. During his tenure as a Politburo member, Zhou was considered the second most powerful leader in the Party because he controlled the police and the criminal justice system. At the trial in 2015, the court accused Zhou of taking bribes of only $118,000. In this regard, Reuters cited sources saying the official amount could be less than in reality, fearing it could embarrass the Party and anger the Chinese people.
Indeed, a 2014 investigation from the New York Times found that the former secretary’s family possessed documented assets of more than $160 million. The newspaper noted that it was “a conservative figure that did not include bank accounts, real estate, assets held by proxies or other wealth not reflected in publicly available records.”
In the same year, multiple sources told Reuters that authorities had seized assets of Zhou’s relatives and associates worth up to 14.5 billion dollars. Prosecutors had frozen Zhou’s bank accounts with deposits amounting to 5.9 billion dollars. That’s not to mention the over-8-billion-dollar-worth of domestic and overseas bonds and stocks.
Reuters also reported, “Investigators had also confiscated about 300 apartments and villas worth around 1.7 billion yuan, antiques and contemporary paintings with a market value of 1 billion yuan and more than 60 vehicles, the sources added. Other items seized included expensive liquor, gold, silver and cash in local and foreign currencies.”
Zhou Yongkang is also known for his key role in assisting Chinese then-leader Jiang Zemin to persecute the spiritual practice Falun Gong.
Guo Boxiong – former General of the People’s Liberation Army
SCMP reported that Guo Boxiong was charged for taking over 12 million dollars in bribes in 2016. Like Zhou Yongkang, sources told the newspaper that the Chinese military prosecutors had downplayed the amount of Guo’s embezzlement.
Mainland magazine Phoenix Weekly at the time reported that the former general “amassed more than one tonne of banknotes in the basement of his home.”
Guo Boxiong’s case stood out because of his scandalous lustful lifestyle. According to Hong Kong Oriental Daily News, anti-corruption investigators found more than 500 pornographic CDs, over 120 pornographic magazines, and 9 fake passports in his private residences in Beijing, Xi’an, Jinan, Zhuhai, and other places.
The former general was reported to foster more than a dozen mistresses for a long time.
Bo Xilai – former Minister of Commerce
Bo Xilai was convicted of corruption charges and abuse of power in 2013. The former minister’s downfall made headlines around the world at the time. In early 2012, his former trusted aide Wang Lijun exposed him and his wife’s crimes after failing to seek political asylum at the U.S. consulate. After Bo’s illegal acts came to light, his son’s Bo Guagua lavish lifestyle abroad also surfaced.
The Foreign Affairs wrote in an argument in 2012, “while Bo was reviving Maoist nostalgia on his official’s salary of about $1,600 per month in a country whose per capita income ranks 121st in the world, his son was renting a presidential-style suite at Oxford and driving a Porsche at Harvard.”
SCMP reported that at his father’s trials, Bo Guagua was portrayed as a party boy. Evidence presented at the court showed that Bo Guagua benefited from the ill-gotten money from his parents. The playboy son allegedly spent 80,000 dollars to hire a private jet from Dubai to Mount Kilimanjaro. The amount was reported to be paid by property tycoon Xu Ming.
During his time at college, the Telegraph reported that Bo Guagua was known for throwing champagne and shisha parties in college rooms. He drove a Ferrari and showed off his wealth.
Many of Bo Xilai’s family members had also gained wealth thanks to Bo’s extensive relationship network. Bloomberg’s investigation in 2012 found that Bo’s family had 136-million-dollar-worth assets. Bo’s older brother used an alias to gain control of 10 million dollars worth of shares in a state-owned bank’s Hong Kong-listed subsidiary. Meanwhile, the two sisters of Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, had at least $126 million in real estate investments.
Even Bo’s lawyer stated at the court that Gu Kailai “had at least 40 million yuan in assets before going to Britain in 2000.”
The former minister himself said at the trial, “I have six to seven safes … In a huge safe at our Beijing home, Gu Kailai kept lots of cash, much more than the US$80,000 and 50,000 yuan you were talking about.”
By profiting from lucrative business deals across China, Bo Xilai himself bought a 32 million dollars mansion in Australia. An American lawyer told the New York Times that Bo’s family were like the “Kennedys of China.”
Over two decades China’s economic growth has been accompanied by massive corruption. Under its political system, it is not difficult to see that China’s economic development model is a way for officials and elites to get rich at the expense of Chinese taxpayers’ money.