Xinhua issued a brief announcement Monday revealing that Lt. Gen. Gu Junshan, formerly the deputy head of the General Logistics Department of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), has been officially charged with “embezzlement, bribery, misuse of state funds and abuse of power.” The charges represent a new step in an investigation that has lasted for over two years, since Gu was taken into custody in January 2012 .
The first sign that Gu’s case might be moving towards a trial came in early February of this month, when private Chinese media outlets from Caixin to Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post were allowed to report on the luxury goods reportedly found during a raid of Gu’s home. At the time, an unnamed anti-graft expert told Global Times that China’s leaders typically kept military corruption cases out of the public spotlight to avoid damaging the military’s image. Now that charges have officially been filed against Gu, and news of the case has appeared for the first time in official state media outlets, it seems Xi Jinping is ready to take his anti-corruption fight to the military.
However, there are already indications that the trial will not be as public as the last high-profile graft case, when former Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai was convicted of corruption, embezzlement, and abuse of power. One day after reporting on Gu’s charges, Xinhua cited comments by a legal expert, Yu Xiao, suggesting that Gu’s trial might be kept private out of security concerns. “The case may involve production and procurement of logistics equipment in the army, which belong to military secrets … Cases involving military secrets concern national security and are not allowed to be tried in public in accordance with laws,” Xinhua wrote, summarizing Yu’s comments.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Still, even if Gu’s trial is held in private, the charges have been announced in public—showing a breakthrough in the investigation. Even while Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption drive has been netting civilian officials right and left, the military had previously remained largely untouched. Prior to charges being brought against Gu, the last high-ranking military official to face corruption charges was Vice Admiral Wang Shouye, all the way back in 2006. Charges against Gu signal that the military is not exempt from the anti-corruption campaign. It’s also worth noting that, while Gu was arrested in 2012 before Xi came to power, charges were only filed against him in 2014, after Xi promised to step up his anti-corruption efforts.
Further, as with many Chinese corruption investigations, the charges against Gu seemed to have spread up the chain of command. Both Reuters and South China Morning Post report that General Xu Caihou, formerly the vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission and a Politburo Central Committee member, has been implicated in the Gu case. SCMP reports that Xu was suspected of receiving bribes from Gu, including a 20 million RMB ($3.22 million) debit card given to Xu’s daughter as a wedding gift.
Should the investigation into Gu move on to Xu, he would become the highest ranking military official ever charged with corruption. Formal charges seem unlikely, however, as SCMP notes, because Xu is said to have terminal cancer—a condition “equal to the death penalty,” according to sources. For now, Gu remains the only high-ranking military official to be charged under Xi Jinping—and whether Xi can add to this list will go a long way in determining the effect of his anti-corruption drive.