China charged former security chief Zhou Yongkang on Friday with taking bribes, abusing his power and disclosing state secrets, paving the way for one of the most significant political trials in the country in decades and underlining President Xi Jinping’s dramatic consolidation of power.
Zhou, 73, presided over the nation’s huge and powerful state security apparatus, including police and intelligence agencies, until his retirement in 2012, enforcing Communist Party control through a massive network of surveillance and repression. He was hated by many and feared by almost everyone.
Zhou also controlled much of the country’s huge oil industry, having risen to power through its ranks. He was a key member of the party’s top body, the Politburo Standing Committee. His downfall breaks an unwritten rule, in place for decades, that made members of the Standing Committee immune from prosecution even after retirement.
The indictment accused Zhou of illegally accepting “huge” bribes, “taking advantage of his position to seek benefits for others,” abusing his power, intentionally disclosing state secrets and “causing heavy losses to public property, the state and the people,” China’s top prosecutor said in a statement on his office’s Web site.
“The impact on society is vile; the circumstances are especially serious,” the indictment said.
Zhou was arrested and expelled from the party last year, and the formal charges came as no surprise. The government has presented his arrest as a centerpiece of Xi’s determination to root out corruption and proof that even senior party members are not above the law.