BEIJING (AP) — A former chief of the Chinese People's Liberation Army's joint staff department was referred to military prosecutors on suspicion of bribery on Tuesday, state media reported, making him the latest high-ranking target of President Xi Jinping's campaign against corruption in the armed forces.
Fang Fenghui's case was transferred to the PLA's criminal prosecution body, the official Xinhua News Agency said. The move virtually ensures his conviction at court martial, followed by a sentence of life or many years in prison. Xinhua said he was suspected of both giving and taking bribes, traditionally a common route to gaining promotion and potentially amassing enormous riches.
Fang dropped out of public view last fall, shortly after an August meeting with the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, leading to speculation he'd been placed under investigation.
Since coming to power in late 2012, Xi, who also leads the party and the armed forces, has launched a wide-ranging crackdown on corruption that has felled scores of mid-to-high-ranking officials.
Three former top generals have already been ensnared in corruption probes, including one who died of cancer before trial and another who committed suicide in November while under investigation. Like Fang, all had been members of the government and ruling Communist Party's Central Military Commissions that oversee the armed forces.
The campaign has strengthened Xi's iron grip on the party and military, while eliminating political threats and helping make him the most powerful Chinese leader in a generation, a status cemented at last year's party congress where he was given a second five-year term as general secretary.
While widely popular, the drive has been criticized outside China as trampling on the legal system since it is spearheaded by the ruling party's internal disciplinary body rather than state prosecutors.
At the same time, Xi has undertaken a thoroughgoing reform of the PLA, reorganizing its structure and shrinking the size of the Central Military Commissions from nine to seven members.
Zhang had been elevated to commander of Beijing's defenses by Xi's predecessor, Hu Jintao, and in 2009 commanded a massive military parade through the heart of the city to mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic.
Last year, he traveled with Xi on a visit to President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate, where he was photographed seated smiling beside Ivanka Trump at a formal banquet.