Judge Xi Xiaoming and his vanishing assets

Although Chinese judicial reforms include establishing a trial-centered judicial system that provides better protection for human rights (including property rights), under Party disciplinary regulations senior Party officials (such as former Supreme People’s Court Vice President Xi Xiaoming, subject of an earlier blogpost),  often have property confiscated or other property punishments imposed at the conclusion of Party disciplinary proceedings. This means that confiscation of assets occurs before an official’s case is transferred to the procuracy and heard by the courts.  According to the official statement on the disposition of Judge Xi’s case:

(He) was ordered to make restitution of certain amounts that were in violation of discipline;the issues related to his suspected crimes and related amounts are transferred to the judicial organs for handing.责令退赔违纪款;将其涉嫌犯罪问题及涉款物移送司法机关依法处理.

The wording  is similar to official statements issued in relation to other senior officials investigated by the CCDI and the same language is to be found in reports on the dispositions of local Communist Party disciplinary investigations.

Han Jinping, director-general of the CCDI’s case coordination department and a former judge in the #2 criminal division of the Supreme People’s Court, provided more details on the CCDI’s authority to impose property punishments in a July, 2015 interview she gave to Chinese Central Television.

(A 2014 profile of Ms. Han reveals that she was involved in guiding some of the lower courts in recent high profile corruption cases and has been involved in some of the thinking behind China’s initiatives to pursue corrupt officials abroad).

She mentioned that more than half of the assets recovered since the beginning of the anti-corruption campaign have been confiscated by the CCDI itself (RMB 20.1 billion) and handed over to the national treasury, while 18.6 billion has been recovered through the formal legal system.  Ms. Han explained that according to applicable rules (set out below), CCDI is authorized to:

  • confiscate assets (没收);
  • recover assets(追缴);
  • order restitution (责令退赔)

relating to violations of Party and government rules and orders.

She noted the following rules guide their authority:

Related to the rules she cited are additional regulations issued by the General Offices of the Central Committee and the State Council on the handling of money and property management in criminal cases earlier this year, focused on coordination between departments (and less explicitly with CCDI).

Assets of officials determined by CCDI to have violated Party rules are confiscated in closed proceedings (subject to Party Committee approval at the relevant level), but the handling of the property must be in accordance with the above procedures. The official under investigation does not have access to counsel, and there does not seem to be a procedure by which a third party can oppose the property punishments imposed by CCDI. ( 2014 regulations of the Supreme People’s Court, by contrast, give third parties that right when property punishments are imposed in criminal proceedings.) For the family members, friends, and associates of an official subject to CCDI proceedings, it appears that any recourse they have is very limited.  A good proportion of the assets recovered in the current anti-corruption campaign have been recovered by skirting the procedural protections of the persons involved under the Chinese Criminal Procedure Law.  It appears to be a modern day version of the traditional legal system’s punishment of officials.

(Please use the comment function if there are errors in the above analysis.)

 

 

 

 

Supreme People’s Court’s prescription for the disease of judicial corruption

Basic level judges and flying money

Basic level judges and flying money

In a build up to the National Day holiday (and since), the Supreme People’s Court (the Court) has focused some of its attention on combating the disease of judicial corruption.  The prescription is in the form of three types of Communist Party documents. This blogpost highlights the prescription and speculates on the timing.

The herbs in this traditional prescription comes in the form of:

  •  Six model (typical) cases of violations of the Communist Party’s Eight Point Regulations by court officials ( “cadres and police”/干警)).  (An earlier blogpost analyzed seven earlier model cases that the Court issued.  The six (relatively minor) cases included:
    • a Guizhou county court spending over 500,000 RMB on a trip to Hainan at public expense, lavish banqueting, and abuse of bonuses;
    • leadership of a Shaoguan (Guangdong) court, that caused the death of their dinner guest, an official of a county court, from alcohol poisoning;
    • vice president of a Hunan county court, who used a court vehicle to take his daughter to school;
    • the head of the disciplinary department of a Hancheng (Shaanxi) court caught by a reporter playing video games during work hours;
  • Holiday rules on what not to do during the Mid-Autumn Festival and National Day holidays.  The Central Commission for Disciplinary Inspection (at various levels) issued notices distributed to the courts forbidding officials “gifting” moon cakes, shopping vouchers, “red packets”, and touring at public expense,
  • A document, linked here, providing policy guidance to the disciplinary departments of the courts in rooting corruption out of the courts. The head of these departments is Zhang Jiannan, who is the Communist Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection’s  (CCDI’s) chief representative in the Supreme People’s Court, and directs the disciplinary departments of the lower courts. The document is again focused on anti-corruption efforts within the courts.  It directs the disciplinary departments to focus on discipline, report to the local Party disciplinary authorities as well as the disciplinary department of the higher courts, participate in major court internal meetings,  improve the operation of disciplinary inspectors (described below). It directs disciplinary officials to participate in important meetings, drafting of important documents, and clear personnel appointments. The disciplinary officials are directed to implement the Party Constitution as well as 2008 regulations on supervision work in the courts.

Some background

The background for these documents is the Communist Party’s Central Committee’s five year anti-corruption plan (analyzed here).  Following that:

  • the Court’s Party Committee  issued a June, 2014 document on Party discipline:
  • the Court dispatched teams of its own disciplinary inspectors(最高人民法院司法巡查组) to Henan, Ningxia, Fujian and Anhui in May and September.  These disciplinary inspectors are the Court’s counterpart to  the CCDI’s  inspection teams, which at the central level called Central Inspection Groups (中央巡视组) (“CIG”).  These CIGs  uncover corruption and other abuses, under which semi-retired high ranking officials are dispatched to provinces, ministries and SOEs for disciplinary inspection. The political background for these inspection teams is analyzed in this article. These inspection teams have operated in the courts for a number of years and operate according to these rules.
  • The Communist Party Central Committee’s Political Legal Committee issued three batches of “typical cases” of violations of law and Party discipline among the “political legal departments,” (each linked here) which included a substantial number of judges, including Liu Yong of the Supreme People’s Court, removed for suspicion of having taken about 2 million yuan in bribes (about $330,000).

 The timing

The timing for the release of these recent documents appears to be linked to the upcoming Fourth Plenum of the 18th Chinese Communist Party Central Committee, on the rule of law. Part of the agenda, according to reports, is the role of the judiciary, curbing corruption and announcing forthcoming judicial reforms.

A traditional prescription

This prescription for curing the courts of corruption uses the traditional cure of Party discipline rather than judicial ethical models more commonly used in other jurisdictions. The Chinese judiciary has looked at approaches to judicial ethics in other jurisdictions, including Germany, the US, and Hong Kong.  Elements of this prescription, such as having disciplinary officials participate in important meetings and the drafting of important documents appear to be inconsistent with some of the goals in the judicial reform plan of having the judges who heard cases decide them.

Will the prescription be effective?

The current prescription is a variation of what has been prescribed before.  The Court needs to show the political leadership that it is it doing what it can to combat corruption in the courts and is implementing anti-corruption initiatives.  The anti-corruption drive is being led by the CCDI, using Party channels and methods.

Corruption prevents or at least complicates efforts to establish and operate a court system that meets the needs of ordinary people. It appears that the Court leadership is under no illusions about what goes on in the court system.  However, the Court leadership can only work within the current system and with current personnel.  Will the broader anti-corruption campaign lead to a change in China’s social and business culture, of which the judiciary is a part?  Or do these latest initiatives not go to the core of the problem?  换汤不换药?