Liu Han case: Questions for China's leaders

Liu Han, former chairman of Hanlong Mining, smokes a cigarette during a conference in Mianyang, Sichuan province, in this file picture taken 21 March 2008 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Tycoon Liu Han is believed to have links to China's former security chief Zhou Yongkang's family

The Chinese public is a long-suffering witness to the often corrupt relationship between political power and business at the local level. But this case demonstrates that the problem is not just local and not just about power and money but about savage criminality as well.

Murder, illegal detention and blackmail were all part of Liu Han's business culture, but that didn't stop him serving as a delegate on a senior provincial political advisory body.

The case raises other sobering questions for China's political leaders. The court said the crimes were atrocious and their influence vile. So why were they allowed to continue unchecked for 20 years?

Partly because the gang won high-level political backing, but partly because its membership included officials from police and prosecutors' offices. The price for one-party politics with no independent judicial system or media scrutiny.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mr Xi's anti-corruption campaign produces regular revelations about wrongdoing in public office

Beyond borders

The impact of the Liu Han story also stretches beyond China's borders. His companies owned stakes in Australian and US mines. As other big Chinese companies invest globally, foreign partners will think hard about the business risks of who in China to work with.

How does the case fit into top level political infighting? It's hard to know for sure, but it will raise more questions about the former security chief Zhou Yongkang.

Liu Han is believed to have been a business associate of Zhou Yongkang's family. For several months, it's been unclear whether the former security chief would face criminal proceedings on charges of corruption and abuse of power. Many in China will wonder if today's verdicts are a precursor to what would be the most serious political corruption case in China's communist history.

In short, while President Xi Jinping's anti-corruption campaign produces an almost daily stream of sensational revelations about wrongdoing in public office, it is also underlining the difficulties of keeping politics clean in a one-party state with a burgeoning economy. And among the Chinese public, it is feeding the growing complaint that crony capitalism is strangling China's public life.

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