China's onetime "untouchable" former security chief was sentenced today to life in prison on corruption charges, in a victory for President Xi Jinping's anti-graft campaign seen as further cementing his authority by removing a potential challenger. Zhou Yongkang, a former member of the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee, is the biggest target to fall in Xi's drive to end the longstanding culture of bribe taking and influence peddling among officials. The First Intermediate People's Court of Tianjin said Zhou was sentenced on charges of receiving bribes, abuse of power, and leaking state secrets. The trial was held behind closed doors because of the final charge. Zhou was sentenced to lesser terms on the abuse of power and state secrets charges, and ordered to serve his sentences concurrently.
The sentence also mandates the seizure of all of Zhou's personal assets. According to the court, Zhou received, directly and indirectly, a total of $21 million in bribes and used his influence to allow others to realize $343 million in profits on business dealings that caused $229 million in losses for the state—presumably through the sale of government assets at below cost. Zhou's actions "inflicted enormous damage to public finances and the interests of the nation," the court said. The court said Zhou would not appeal. While the charges potentially mandated a death sentence, Zhou received leniency after confessing, showing repentance, and ordering his relatives to hand over most of their ill-gotten gains. (Read more Zhou Yongkang stories.)