The New York Times
BEIJING — Prosecutors accused a former senior military official on Monday of a litany of crimes, including bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power, presenting a first glimpse of what could be the biggest corruption scandal to ever engulf the Chinese armed forces.
The charges against the officer, Lt. Gen. Gu Junshan, are the outcome of a far-reaching inquiry under President Xi Jinping that signaled his determination to make high-profile examples out of dishonest military figures. His goal, military analysts said, is to transform a service larded with pet projects and patronage networks into a leaner fighting force more adept at projecting power abroad and buttressing party rule at home, while strengthening his own authority over the army.
During a raid on the home of Lieutenant General Gu Junshan armed police seized four truck’s worth of luxury items
The announcement of the case against General Gu, made by Xinhua, the official news agency, came two years after he was quietly dismissed as deputy chief of the General Logistics Department, and provided no details. But an internal inquiry has accused him of presiding over a vast land development racket that hoarded kickbacks, bought promotions, and enabled him and his family to amass dozens of expensive residences, including places where investigators found stockpiles of high-end liquor, gold bullion and cash, according to people briefed on the investigation.
Guesthouses at a military housing compound in Beijing are said to have been built by General Gu to curry favor. Credit Jonathan Ansfield/The New York Times
The investigation into General Gu, who had a commanding authority over how resources in the army were used, has shaken the military because of the scale of his activities — estimates of his assets range from several hundred million to a few billion dollars — and because it threatens some of its most senior figures.
Even as Mr. Xi has pressed a sweeping campaign against graft in the Communist Party, he has seized on the case against General Gu to pursue a parallel drive to clean up the 2.3 million-member armed forces. In doing so, he is challenging military elders who promoted General Gu and have sought to protect him and themselves from the investigation, the people with knowledge of the inquiry said.
In internal speeches, Mr. Xi has railed against a wider “Gu Junshan phenomenon” of military corruption, demanded action to “dredge the soil that produced Gu Junshan,” and threatened to bring down both “large and small Gu Junshans,” said a retired official and associate of Mr. Xi’s, suggesting that unprecedented punishments of other, higher-ranking military figures in the People’s Liberation Army, the world’s largest, could lie ahead. The campaign presents Mr. Xi with a cudgel to tighten control over an institution that some say has drifted from the party leadership’s orbit even as it remains a bulwark of one-party rule.
General Gu has already provided investigators with enough information to target powerful patrons, principally Xu Caihou, the army’s second-ranking general and a Politburo member before retiring in 2012, people with knowledge of the inquiry said. These people, who include retired military officers, foreign diplomats and children of former senior leaders, spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.
Several said investigators had restricted the movements of General Xu, who has been hospitalized with bladder cancer. If Mr. Xi were to move formally against General Xu, he would enter uncharted territory. No military leader of General Xu’s stature has ever been toppled for corruption.
Mr. Xi, unlike his immediate predecessors, took over the military and the party at the same time — in November 2012 — and brought strong military ties. After university, he served as an aide to a top military official. His father was a revolutionary guerrilla commander. His wife was a star in the P.L.A.’s song-and-dance troupe. Gen. Liu Yuan, the political commissar of the logistics department who is credited with helping to initiate the anticorruption drive, is among his oldest comrades.
While his predecessors struggled to manage the military, Mr. Xi regards it as a bastion of support and has embraced its vision of China as a more robust power, diplomats and analysts said.
In an internal speech soon after taking office, he made a point of placing blame for the collapse of the Soviet Union in part on Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s losing control of the military. “His implication was: ‘I’m going to take charge of the military for real. I’m not going to be like the last two administrations, putting up with you as you bumble around,’ ” said the associate of Mr. Xi.
Early on, he and others said, Mr. Xi established a routine of working at the Central Military Commission headquarters at least half a day each week, significantly more often than previous party chiefs.
He has ordered a stream of antigraft measures, audits and criticism sessions; has enlarged drills to upgrade “battle readiness”; and is pushing forward contentious plans to restructure a military bureaucracy criticized as bloated and outmoded.
“Xi Jinping is highly aware of the deepening complexities in China’s neighborhood, so the P.L.A. has never been more in demand,” said Zhu Feng, an international security expert at Peking University. “The P.L.A. spends a lot of money, but the question is, how are they following up on all the spending?”
Corruption has bedeviled the military since the market overhauls of the 1980s, when it was permitted to venture into industry and earn the funds to modernize its arsenal and sustain its troops. Widespread smuggling, graft and profiteering ensued. It took years of debate for the party in 1998 to order the military to divest from business. But as Beijing increased military spending, officers tapped these resources for profit.
The army retains extensive land holdings, which have ballooned in value in line with property prices across the country, and real estate transactions are considered its biggest source of corruption. One former military officer said generals sometimes evaded regulations limiting the size of their residences by building ceilings twice the standard height. “That way they can add a floor later,” he said.
Bribery for promotions is believed to be more institutionalized than within the party. Insiders say an endorsement for a general’s slot can carry a price of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Procurement is plagued by waste and fraud. One recent order for fighter jet canopies, for example, cost nearly three times more than a state aviation contractor’s bid and resulted in products riddled with flaws, according to an academic with the institution that designed the part.
Such abuses proliferated under Mr. Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao, who was often seen as ineffectual and disengaged from military affairs. It was during that period that General Gu oversaw a multibillion-dollar construction boom as head of the infrastructure and barracks division. He built several hundred outsize villas for high-ranking officers, profited from scores of land deals and acquired three dozen homes in central Beijing alone, the military insiders said.
Since a military scholar first acknowledged the case against General Gu last August, two Chinese news media outlets, Global People and Caixin, have pierced the secrecy surrounding it with investigative reports.
They portrayed General Gu as a stocky farmer’s son who made up for his lack of qualifications with networking skills. He married a superior’s daughter, plied higher-ups and underlings with perks, and recently commissioned a biography and a grave site that inflated his father’s revolutionary credentials, they reported.
In the family’s hometown in central China, his brother, a former village party chief, won local real estate deals and military supply contracts with his backing, they reported. General Gu’s wife, a city police official, worked to intercept villagers who took their grievances against the land deals to Beijing.
In one deal that drew internal scrutiny, General Gu approved more than double the funds that the song-and-dance troupe requested for renovations, and collected a kickback worth several hundred thousand dollars in cash and gold bullion, two of the sources said.
General Liu first proposed action against General Gu in late 2011, said two elite party members close to General Liu. Mr. Hu, who was nearing the end of his presidency, then asked the military’s disciplinary agency to suspend General Gu twice, they said, but encountered resistance from top military leaders. Only after Mr. Hu ordered the party’s own disciplinary body to investigate was the military forced to take action.
Even then, investigators moved slowly. By fall 2012, the military was preparing an indictment accusing the general of pocketing less than $1 million in bribes and kickbacks, said the retired official.
But Mr. Xi was incensed by the case and, after he took office, widened the scope of the inquiry.
A turning point came in January 2013, when investigators raided a storage chamber General Gu kept in his home village and hauled off four truckloads of items, including 20 crates of liquor and a pure gold statue of Chairman Mao, Caixin reported.
China’s Defense Ministry did not answer a request for comment on the case.
One question under scrutiny is whether General Gu’s rapid rise — five high-level promotions in eight years, over repeated objections from the head of the logistics department — involved payoffs of now-retired military leaders, particularly General Xu. General Xu is considered a protégé of Jiang Zemin, the former president, and once oversaw appointments.
After he retired, investigators found a hoard of expensive gifts, including large pieces of ivory, in a locked storeroom next to his former office, a businesswoman briefed by military officers said.
“Gu Junshan gave him up,” said the businesswoman, after meeting with a member of the military task force investigating the case. “He said that Gu gave up information on just about everyone.”