A former aide to Chinese President Hu Jintao has been officially expelled from the Communist Party, Xinhua reported on Monday. Ling Jihua, who served as head of the Central Committee’s General Office during Hu’s tenure, was announced to be under an internal Party graft investigation last December. Now his case will be turned over to the courts for prosecution.
“Ling Jihua’s actions completely deviated from the characteristics and goals of the Party,” Xinhua said, citing an official report from the Politburo. “He seriously violated Party discipline, did enormous damage to the Party’s image, and had an extremely negative influence on society.”
That announcement followed two years of rumors that Ling was in the Party’s cross-hairs. In March 2012, Ling’s son was killed in a car crash, the lurid details of which (Ling was driving a Ferrari whose passengers included two half-naked women) served to embarrass the Party as it prepared for its delicate, once-in-a-decade leadership transition. In addition to that incident, which led to Ling being suspected of corruption, the Chinese rumor mill has since linked Ling with former high-ranking officials Bo Xilai, Xu Caihou, and Zhou Yongkang as part of a plot to at best undermine – and at worst overthrow – current President Xi Jinping.
Now that Ling has been officially expelled from the Party, he will face trial, following in the footsteps of Bo and Zhou, his supposed political allies (Xu passed away before facing trial).
For Bo, Zhou, and Ling, their fates were sealed long before their cases came to trial – even before the Party first officially announced its investigations into them. Announcing an investigation into high-profile Party members requires political consensus; once that level of buy-in is reached, the subject of the investigation is guaranteed to be found guilty. Ling’s case, which began roughly around the same time as Bo’s (the scandal that brought Bo down broke in February 2012) has made slow progress through the system, likely because of the sensitivities involved in investigating someone so close to one of China’s former leaders.
Rather than going after Ling directly, Chinese investigators took their time targeting his family members and associates, particularly his brothers Ling Zhengce and Ling Wancheng. All the while, Ling continued in his new post as vice chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and director of the Central United Front Department of the Chinese Communist Party, supposedly still a member in good standing of the Party, even though it was common knowledge that he was secretly under investigation.
Today’s announcement bring Ling’s case one step closer to a conclusion. With his case (and the evidence unearthed by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection) now being passed on to China’s courts, the only question is whether Ling’s trial will be open – and heavily publicized – as Bo’s was, or closed-door, as was the case for Zhou. Zhou’s trial was so secretive, in fact, that it was not covered by Chinese media outlets until the case was over.
According to the Party’s internal investigation, Ling was found guilty of “seriously violating the political discipline of the Party”; receiving large bribes through his family members; using his political posts to benefit others (such as promoting his wife’s business interests); keeping multiple mistresses; and (most intriguingly) “illegally acquiring a great number of core Party and State secrets.” That last charge may ensure that Ling’s trial is a closed-door one; Zhou was accused of “leaking state secrets,” and his trial was kept under wraps for national security reasons.
Both Bo and Zhou were sentenced to life in prison for corruption; Ling will likely earn a similar fate. It’ll be another feather in the cap of Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption drive, and a message to observers who believe that the campaign is drawing to an end.