Beijing (AsiaNews) - Zhou Yongkang, former China's security chief and politburo member, was expelled from the Chinese Communist Party last night and was taken into custody pending his trial.
The announcement of his fall, in a statement carried by Xinhua after midnight, lists a number of allegations, not only - as expected - of corruption, but also of "leaking party and state secrets" and "exchanging power and money for sex".
Zhou, who was a faithful husband for 30 years to his wife, and married a second time a year after the former's death, now stands accused of using his power to help mistresses and relatives.
The charge of leaking state secrets is a curious one for the head of the country's security forces, who had a habit of wire-tapping the phones of other leaders.
Zhou Yongkang's indictment and trial represent the highest point of the anti-corruption campaign launched 18 months ago by President Xi Jinping against what he dubbed "tigers" and "flies", i.e. powerful as well as low level party officials.
Through such house cleaning, China's president sought to remove the stigma of corruption associated with the party itself and restore a sense of morality and service to an institution that for many had become an opportunity to make huge gains.
"His actions completely go against the nature and goals of the Communist Party, and have damaged the image of the party," People's Daily said. "Firmly investigating Zhou shows our zero-tolerance approach to corruption."
Until November 2012, Zhou was a member of the Politburo's Standing Committee, after he built a power base in the oil industry and state security apparatus.
Before going after Zhou, the party tried to undo his entire power network. Last October, the party's plenum expelled six members, four connected to Zhou.
So far, at least ten people, including relatives - wife, children, in-laws - have been arrested on charges of corruption for the possession of assets estimated to be worth at least US$ 14 billion, including 37 companies from oil production, property development, hydropower, tourism and many more.
Many doubts remain however about the anti-corruption campaign's effectiveness:
1) first of all about its scope. For every Zhou Yongkang who is stopped, there are many others who remain free. In the past, Xi Jinping himself was accused of mixing politics and his own business interests to the tune of billions.
2) The campaign does not seem very successful. According to people who trade with China, bribery is taking on new forms and amounts, seriously undermining the campaign's ideals.
3) It is very likely - and not uncommon - for the anti-corruption campaign to be the only one way to eliminate opponents by shaming them politically, economically and morally. Lest it be forgotten, Zhou was a close ally of Bo Xilai, who last year was sentenced to life in prison for corruption.