A Chinese court sentenced the country’s former domestic security chief to life in prison on Thursday, marking the highest-level official to fall as part of a sweeping anti-corruption campaign.
The ex-spymaster, Zhou Yongkang, once had a spot at the pinnacle of the country’s power structure, and then became known as the biggest “tiger” to be targeted in President Xi Jinping’s effort to tackle power abuses across the country.
His spectacular collapse was seen as a message that no official was safe from Xi’s efforts to address chronic corruption such as graft and influence peddling in the one-party state.
But the prosecution — the highest reaching in more than three decades — also suggested possible political payback against factions that had sought to block Xi’s rise in China’s hierarchy.
The state-run Xinhua news agency said Zhou was sentenced after a closed-door trial in Tianjin, about 80 miles southeast of Beijing. It said Zhou did not plan to appeal.
The verdict also was read on state television, which showed images of Zhou — who has not been seen in public since late 2013.
Zhou, 72, had pleaded guilty to charges of bribery, leaking state secrets and other charges. As a member of China’s Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou had access to the most closely guarded information on government and Communist Party affairs.
Zhou was the highest-ranking politician to stand trial since the 1981 show trial of Mao Zedong’s widow, Jiang Qing, and other members of the “Gang of Four.” They were convicted of leading the purges, persecution and chaos of China’s 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution.
Chinese media said the probe into Zhou covered his positions over decades, including his role as deputy general manager of the powerful China National Petroleum Corp. and a Communist Party boss in the southwestern Sichuan province.
Xi, who assumed the presidency in late 2012, has pledged to root out corruption within China’s ruling ranks.
Zhou’s allies were believed to include officials who opposed Xi’s political ascent. Among them were Bo Xilai, the charismatic former party chief of Chongqing, who was sentenced to life imprisonment for corruption in September 2013, and Gen. Xu Caihou, who died in March of bladder cancer while under arrest on similar charges.