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No Country for Old Men

A growing number of retired officials have been investigated and penalized as China endeavors to deter those who are still in office

By NewsChina Updated Apr.1

On January 16, the anti-graft watchdog of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region announced that four senior officials, two retired, were under investigation for serious violations. The announcement generated a public outcry.  

Li He, former senior inspector of the tourism bureau had already been retired for six years, and Wang Zhenlin, former chief of the Inner Mongolia Coalfield Geological Bureau, had been retired for 14 years, having left his last post in August 2006.  

In recent years, a growing number of retired officials have been tracked and investigated for corruption. Some of the suspected acts occurred before they retired and some continued afterward. Following harsh crackdowns on corruption while in office, disciplinary authorities zoomed in on retired officials who had so far escaped the anti-graft campaign. 

No Bygones 
Mao Zhaohui, director of the Renmin University of China’s Center for Anti-Corruption and Clean Government, told NewsChina that retired officials were rarely investigated up to and after the 18th Communist Party of China (CPC) National Congress, which took place in November 2012. After the 19th CPC National Congress in October 2017, however, many retired officials were investigated and subsequently put on trial. He added that the recent crackdown on retired officials was centered in several regions known for natural resources, including Inner Mongolia which has abundant coal reserves.  

On February 28, 2020, the Inner Mongolian government held a meeting on combating activities that violated discipline and laws in the coal sector, proposing to “investigate corruption of the past 20 years.” Meanwhile, the region’s anti-graft agency asked the public to come forward with information about government officials and State-owned enterprise leaders who had been involved in illegal coal businesses and bribery since 2000.  

Nine months after the campaign was launched, at least 41 government officials at the ministerial level, most retired, were investigated and found to have participated in corruption in Inner Mongolia.  

On April 29, authorities investigated the activities of Yang Yongkuan, former head of the Inner Mongolia Geology and Mineral Resources Group, two years after his retirement. According to the official circular, he failed to properly perform his duties in the management of mine exploration rights, incurring heavy losses to State assets.  

On December 4, Bai Dun, former Party chief of the Department of Land and Resources of Inner Mongolia, was also investigated six years after he retired.  

Wang Minggao, a professor specializing in clean government at Hunan University of Technology and Business, had been working for the Hunan Provincial Organization Department for 20 years. He told our reporter that retired officials in Inner Mongolia were investigated because of connections to misuse of the region’s rich natural resources. Wang added that many retired officials were also investigated after they were connected to major corruption cases.  

On November 23, 2020, Lu Zhuoqing, former deputy Party chief of Sanshui District in the city of Foshan, Guangdong Province, was put under investigation. Two days later, Cai Ruwen, former deputy Party chief of the politics and law committee of Sanshui District was also investigated. On November 27, He Zhou’er, former chief of the water resources bureau in the district, was connected to the same case.  

The trio retired in January 2012, March 2011 and July 2014. They were charged with receiving bribes and providing a protective umbrella for a criminal gang headed by Lin Jingquan. Lin was a mobster who was convicted of organizing mafia-style gangs, affray, bribery, collusion in entering bids, illegal mining, organizing prostitution and illegally purchasing and trading in endangered wildlife products.  

On December 24, Foshan Shunde District People’s Court sentenced Lin to 26 years and six months in prison and all his personal assets were confiscated. According to the incidental civil action, Lin and nine gang members were fined 2.96 billion yuan (US$460m) to compensate for environmental restoration caused by the gang’s long-term involvement in illegal mining and other destructive activities, including illegal fishing ports.  

As more regions began to overhaul their financial sectors, many retired senior officials have fallen after being linked to illegal activity. On June 4, 2020, Xue Jining, former head of the Inner Mongolia branch of the China Banking Regulatory Commission, was expelled from the CPC, according to a statement released by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the country’s top anti-graft watchdog. He retired in 2015 at the age of 65.  

On June 18, 2020, Shanxi provincial government held a meeting on financial reform, aiming to combine the prevention of financial risks with the anti-corruption campaign to winkle out corrupt officials in the financial sector. On August 5, Wang Zaisheng, former deputy Party chief of the Shanxi Rural Credit Cooperatives Union, was investigated three years after his retirement. 

Zhao Shaolin, former secretary-general of the Jiangsu provincial Party Standing Committee, is sentenced to four years in prison for corruption and foreign currency fraud in October 2014, eight years after he retired

More Bribes after Retirement 
Mao Zhaohui told our reporter that some outgoing officials would appoint trusted followers to senior posts to continue their malign influence after they retired. Yet when these staff were investigated, they were quick to divulge on the malpractices of their predecessors. Many officials linked to corruption took up post-retirement positions at enterprises where they could continue their illegal business activities through personal connections.  

On July 27, 2018, Hu Houquan, former deputy director at Foshan City Planning Bureau in Guangdong Province, was sentenced to four years in prison. Retired for six years, Foshan disciplinary watchdogs said that Hu illegally paved the way for enterprises in terms of administrative approval but accepted bribes only after retirement to evade justice.  

On April 7, Guo Deqing, former chairman of the Political Consultative Conference of Baiyin, Northwest China’s Gansu Province, was disgraced after seven years of retirement, during which he served as a supervisor of a local company. According to a report by China Discipline Inspection and Supervision News, he accepted twice as many bribes after he retired than when he was in the office.  

In October 2014, Zhao Shaolin, former secretary-general of the Party Committee of Jiangsu Province, was put under investigation eight years after his retirement. In May 2017, he was sentenced to four years in prison and fined 15 million yuan (US$2.3m). The written judgment showed that from 2007 to 2014, Zhao Shaolin served as chief adviser at a real estate company owned by his son Zhao Jin, whom he helped to fabricate foreign trade contracts to fraudulently purchase foreign currency worth over US$41.7 million.  

Zhao Shaolin was the first corrupt high-ranking official caught by the central disciplinary inspection team after they arrived in Jiangsu Province. Five senior officials were found to be involved in the same case, and they were sentenced to prison, including He Jiacheng, former executive deputy director of the National Academy of Governance, Zhou Benshun, former Party chief of Hebei Province, Wang Min, former Party chief of the city of Jinan, Shandong Province, Yang Weize, former Party chief of the city of Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, and Wu Changshun, former public security chief of Tianjin.  

In recent years, a growing number of retired officials have surrendered themselves. On July 31, 2018, Ai Wenli, former vice-chairman of Hebei Provincial Political Consultative Conference, gave himself up, the first official above ministerial level to surrender himself since China’s Supervision Law was enacted in March 2018.  

In February 2019, Chen Jianshe, former vice-chairman of the Political Consultative Conference of Shaoxing, East China’s Zhejiang Province, turned himself in. He said in his confession letter that “15 years after retirement, I finally gave myself solace and sounded an alarm to officials nearing retirement.”  

According to Zhuang Deshui, deputy director of Peking University Clean Government Center, recent investigations into retired officials point to a new direction in the country’s corruption crackdown. In the past, retirement usually meant a soft landing but nowadays, he added, there is a one-size-fits-all anti-graft policy.  

In the 1980s, China unveiled polices to prohibit retired officials from doing business and opening enterprises. “It’s about time to strengthen supervision of retired officials and improve regulations to prevent them from profiteering from their political influences,” Zhuang told NewsChina.  

Wang Minggao, a clean government professor at Hunan University of Technology and Business, told our reporter that China’s anti-graft campaign is still underway and it is yet to win a decisive victory.  

“The goal of creating a deterrent against corruption has not been attained, as can be seen from these cases,” he said. “We are still building up a moral defense against corruption.”