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China: Former political star Sun Zhengcai sentenced to life

Sun Zhengcai, once seen as Xi Jinping's possible successor, pleaded guilty to accepting more than $27m in bribes.

A former senior Communist Party official who was once tipped to become the future president of China has been sentenced to life imprisonment for bribery on Tuesday.

The First Intermediate People's Court of Tianjin convicted Sun Zhengcai of taking more than 170 million yuan ($27m) in bribes, directly or through third parties.

Sun had previously pleaded guilty to accepting bribes at his trial on 12 April. 

During the trial, Sun said he would not appeal the sentence.

Sun and his alleged associates were accused of accepting money and assets in return for helping unspecified organisations and individuals with business operations and other matters, the court said.

The crimes were committed while he was a district Communist Party leader in Beijing in 2002 when he was the state minister of agriculture, and during his period as party chief, the court said. 

"I sincerely confess to and regret the crimes I committed. I accept the court's verdict and will not appeal," the 54-year-old leader said in court, China Central Television reported.

Sun, a former Politburo member and party chief of the southwestern mega-city of Chongqing was also stripped of his political rights for life, and all his property and illicit gains were confiscated, Chinese news agency Xinhua reported.

In July, Sun was abruptly removed from his post as the ruling Communist Party's chief of the southwestern city of Chongqing and was replaced by Chen Miner, a protege of current President Xi Jinping.

Sun was the youngest member of the Communist Party's top 25-member Politburo before he was expelled, and he was widely considered a potential successor to Xi.

Sun's case mirrors the downfall of another former Chongqing chief, Bo Xilai, whose arrest shook the previous party in 2012.

Bo, who was at the time considered a potential future leader, is now serving a life sentence in prison for corruption and abuse of power, charges that Sun is also facing.

Xi, 64, has waged a relentless fight against deep-rooted corruption since assuming power five years ago, with more than a million officials punished and dozens of former senior officials jailed.

During last year's National Congress, Xi vowed to continue his anti-corruption campaign, claiming "the fight against corruption has formed an overwhelming posture and strengthened in development." 

His clampdown on corrupt officials has gained him a measure of popularity among Chinese people. 

However, critics have claimed Xi has used the crusade as a way to sideline political opponents and consolidate his power over the country.

Xi's rise over the years has been accompanied by tighter restrictions on civil society, with the detention of activists and lawyers, and stricter limits on the already heavily controlled internet.

In March, China's parliament scrapped presidential term limits, paving the way for Xi to rule indefinitely over the world's most populous country.

The move reversed the era of "collective" leadership and orderly succession that was promoted by late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping to ensure stability following the turbulent one-man rule of Communist China's founder Mao Zedong.

Xi would have had to give up the presidency after the end of his second term in 2023, but last year's decision allows him to have a lifetime in power during which to push his vision of a rejuvenated China as a global powerhouse with a "world-class" military. 


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