China’s former security chief and the arch-rival of president Xi Jinping has been sentenced to life in prison following a secret trial.

Zhou Yongkang – one of the Communist party’s most powerful and feared figures until his retirement in 2012 – was a key adversary of the Chinese leader and some experts had predicted he would be executed for his alleged crimes.

Following a secret trial Zhou, 72, was convicted of bribery, abuse of power and leaking state secrets, Xinhua, China’s official news agency, announced on Thursday afternoon. “Zhou pleaded guilty and will not appeal,” Xinhua reported.

Zhou was convicted of taking 129m yuan (£13.4m) worth of bribes as well as leaking “top secret files”, Xinhua added. His trial, which was held in the north-eastern city of Tianjin, around 80 miles from Beijing, began on 22 May.

Xi, who became Communist party chief in late 2012 just as Zhou stepped down, has been portrayed as China’s most powerful and authoritarian leader since Mao Zedong.

Related: Politburo, army, casinos: China’s corruption crackdown spreads

However, Steve Tsang, an expert on Chinese politics from the University of Nottingham, said Beijing’s decision to try Zhou in secret suggested Xi was not as dominant as some observers suggest.

“He is still powerful, he is still confident – but not as much as we were all giving him credit for,” he said. Xi has been waging a high-profile war on corruption, vowing to eliminate thieving “tigers and flies” from the Communist party.

But much of the explanation for Zhou’s downfall was political, Tsang said. Xi would have seen his rival as a major obstacle preventing him from asserting “his supremacy within the party”.

“We don’t know what Xi Jinping wants to do in China yet but we do know that he is ambitious. We do know that he wants to leave a mark.”

Source: The Guardian

Additonal Reporting by Luna Lin




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