China indicts former president's top aide

AP News
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Posted: May 13, 2016 5:04 AM

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese prosecutors have indicted the former top aide to ex-President Hu Jintao on charges of taking bribes, illegally obtaining state secrets and abuse of power, state media reported Friday, in the latest high-profile blow in President Xi Jinping's sweeping crackdown on corruption.

State broadcaster CCTV said prosecutors in the northern port city of Tianjin have filed the charges against Ling Jihua, who once served as head of the Communist Party's General Office, a position comparable to the U.S. president's chief of staff.

Ling was placed under investigation in late 2014 and was formally arrested in July 2015.

A consummate political insider, Ling became a household name in China in 2012 when his son reportedly died at the wheel of a crashed Ferrari with two nude or half-dressed women as passengers. Ling was accused in unconfirmed overseas media reports of covering up the affair, which came amid a larger scandal surrounding the removal of one of the country's highest-profile politicians, Bo Xilai.

In September of that year, shortly before Xi replaced Hu as party chief, Ling was transferred to the party's United Front Work Department in what was widely seen as a demotion.

Soon afterward, Ling lost his remaining positions within the party's upper echelon and in 2013 was made a vice chairman of the powerless advisory body to China's ceremonial parliament, in addition to his role as head of the United Front Work Department.

Ling might have quietly served out his career far from the center of power, but reports on his indictment stated he was accused of committing abuses even while in those relatively obscure positions.

Friday's reports made no mention of Ling's brother, Ling Wancheng, who is believed to live in the United States and is being sought by China's top anti-corruption agency. A number of other Ling relatives and associates have also been detained over various accusations.

Ling Wancheng is believed to hold sensitive information about China's leadership and could deliver an intelligence windfall should he defect. Speculation has been rife over whether Ling Jihua's fate might be tied to his brother's possible cooperation with Chinese authorities, although no connection has ever been established.

The New York Times reported that the Obama administration has rebuffed Chinese requests for Ling's repatriation and has warned China about covert agents seeking his whereabouts on U.S. soil.

Ling's downfall comes amid criticism of the Communist Youth League, Hu Jintao's former powerbase. Hu, who stepped down as president in 2013, is rarely seen in public and doesn't appear to wield the same degree of behind-the-scenes influence as other former leaders.