The big fish caught in Xi Jinping's anti-graft net

Beijing (AFP) –


The former head of Interpol, an ex-spy chief and a Xinjiang governor accused of "trading power for sex" are just some of the high-profile officials to suffer spectacular falls from grace in President Xi Jinping's purge of the Chinese Communist Party's upper echelons.

Ostensibly a crackdown on corruption, critics say the wide-ranging campaign has also served as a way to remove those voicing criticism of the all-powerful leader.

Here are some of the political heavyweights currently languishing in jail after being caught in Xi's anti-graft net.

High-flyer Bo Xilai

Son of a high-ranking revolutionary general and a political high-flyer tipped for the top job, Bo Xilai was sentenced to life in jail for bribery in 2013, amid a murder scandal involving his wife and the death of a British businessman.

Charismatic Bo, aged 71, had exposed deep splits in the party before Xi took power in 2012.

He was party chief of the southwestern metropolis of Chongqing when murder allegations against his wife Gu Kailai burst into the open.

Bo was stripped of his position and convicted of bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power, and his wife was handed a death sentence for murder -- later commuted to life imprisonment.

Security chief Zhou Yongkang

Former spy chief Zhou Yongkang was convicted of a series of corruption charges -- including bribery, abuse of power and leaking state secrets -- and jailed for life in 2015.

Until his fall from grace, Zhou, 78 -- who started off as an oil field technician -- was one of the nine most senior politicians in China.

Interpol chief Meng Hongwei

Then Interpol chief Meng Hongwei was sentenced to more than 13 years in prison for bribery in January, in a case that shook the international police organisation.

He vanished during a 2018 visit to China from France, where he was based as the body's first Chinese president, and later pleaded guilty to accepting $2.1 million in bribes.

During his tenure as deputy chief of the public security bureau, the agency arrested and interrogated a number of prominent Chinese dissidents -- including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, who later died of cancer while in police custody.

Xinjiang chief Nur Bekri

One of China's highest-ranking Uighur officials and the former head of the troubled northwest Xinjiang region, Nur Bekri was jailed for life last December.

He pleaded guilty to accepting 79 million yuan ($11.6 million) in bribes over the course of two decades and "trading power for sex", according to a court in northeast China.

Bekri's tenure in the region was marred by violence, including bloody anti-Chinese riots in 2009 that left nearly 200 dead.

'Big Cannon' Ren Zhiqiang

Property tycoon Ren Zhiqiang -- once among the Communist Party's inner circle -- disappeared from the public eye in March, shortly after penning an essay that lambasted Xi's response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The son of a former commerce minister, Ren was known for his outspokenness, which earned him the nickname "Big Cannon" -- in his essay criticising Xi, he called the president a "clown".

Jailing him this week for 18 years for corruption, bribery and stealing public funds, a Beijing court said Ren embezzled money and accepted bribes while chairman of a state-owned property developer.