10/16/2007, 00.00
CHINA
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Stories of ‘ordinary corruption’ on the margins of Communist Party congress

SINOPEC’s former chairman Chen Tonghai is in detention; former Finance Minister Jin Renqing is banned from the congress. Hu calls for zero tolerance on corruption and bad governance if the Party wants to survive. However, experts note that it continues to be widespread at all levels.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Chen Tonghai, the former chairman of China Petroleum and Chemical Corp (SINOPEC) and Asia’s biggest refiner, has been detained for questioning. Former finance minister Jin Renqing is believed to have been disqualified from the Communist Party's week-long 17th national congress for "serious disciplinary violations.” These are but two examples of ‘ordinary’ corruption among Communist Party leaders.

Chen, who ostensibly left SINOPEC “for personal reasons,” was in detention and under investigation, said Li Rongrong, head of China’s State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission. Although Chen presided over a period of massive growth at SINOPEC, he was probably replaced as a result of corruption and embezzlement.

Congress spokesman Li Dongsheng said at yesterday's press briefing that three of the 2,217 elected delegates to the congress had died of illness and one was disqualified. Although no name was mentioned it is thought that Jin Renqing is the disqualified member. Mr Jin, who is a party Central Committee member, was in fact absent from last week's meeting of the 350-odd members of the committee.

The unusual absence follows Mr Jin's abrupt replacement and transfer to the Development Research Centre, a State Council think-tank, after a sex scandal snowballed to implicate several senior mainland officials.

These scandals come at a time when the Communist Party of China (CPC) is enforcing a zero tolerance policy on corruption, this according to Hu Jintao in the address he delivered yesterday to the 17th CPC National Congress.

“The CPC never tolerates corruption or any other negative phenomena," said Hu on behalf of the outgoing CPC Central Committee, stressing that "resolutely punishing and effectively preventing corruption is crucial to the popular support for the Party and its survival.”

Analysts point out that in 2004 corruption, embezzlement and unlawful use of public funds cost more than US$ 100 million (about 4 per cent of GDP) and that the problem just got bigger thereafter.

In 2006, there were 33,000 official cases of corruption reported, but only 1,600 officials were arrested and 80 per cent of those sentenced got no prison time. One example among many: although public officials are not supposed to hold any interest in coal mines, about 95 per cent of who officials who did got Scott free in trials involving collapsed mines.

Official figures indicate that unlawful behaviour is widespread and that prosecution is limited. In 2005 110,000 officials were punished; in 2006 they were 90,000, mostly through disciplinary actions.

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