Ten Chinese officials were fired from their posts in connection with a sex tape extortion scandal in the southwestern city of Chongqing, while police broke up a criminal ring that was behind the incidents, according to state-run media.
The ten officials allegedly appeared in the one or more of the videos, which were used by the ring to blackmail them into handing out profitable building contracts.
One official in Chongqing, Lei Zhengfu, a portly man whose face appeared in screenshots that have appeared across the Internet, lost his job following the emergence of the scandal last November.
The Communist Party mouthpiece Xinhua reported that the county- and district-level officials were sacked, adding that “executives of state-owned enterprises” were also fired.
But in a strange twist, the Chongqing Municipal Committee for Discipline Inspection discovered that the ring hired women, including former prostitute Zhao Hongxia–who rose to relative infamy for appearing in the tape with Lei–to sleep with the officials as part of their blackmail scheme.
The ring is alleged to have paid only 300 yuan (around $30) to the women for their services, reported the Daily Telegraph, which also initially reported that Zhao was paid around $8,000 to sleep with Lei.
“He was straightforward, asking me if I wanted to be a prostitute serving some government officials that he had a business relationship with,” she wrote on her blog last year.
The case first emerged in November, creating a political firestorm and drew condemnation from Chinese bloggers, who saw it as a sign of the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s thoroughgoing corruption.
“Zhao Hongxia should be the most popular heroine of 2012 among grassroots activists,” said Phoenix TV reporter Qin Feng on his Sina Weibo microblogging account; the implied meaning was that her liaisons unearthed a good deal of corruption among Chinese officials.
The brazenness of the scandal as well as the number of officials involved suggests that corruption is widespread across China.
“The incident in Chongqing is not accidental or exceptional. It should be said that it is rather common and that the problem is with corrupted lifestyles,” Chinese Academy of Social Sciences researcher Liu Shanying told The Associated Press.
“The atmosphere of officialdom is far from the traditional morality of ordinary people. Many local officials have lower moral standards than ordinary people, and the power they enjoy makes it easier for them to do immoral things,” Liu continued.
According to AP, Zhu Ruifeng, the journalist who released the first tape, said that the woman who appeared in the video with Lei was hired by a construction firm to extort a construction contract from him.
The investigation and firing is part of a crackdown on corruption in Chongqing as well as across China in the wake of the Bo Xilai scandal. Bo, who was the former Communist Party chief of Chongqing, is awaiting trial on charges for corruption and abuse of office
“When facing various kinds of temptation, officials should keep clear minds,” a local official from Chongqing was quoted as saying by state-run radio. “When women say they love your charm, they are actually eyeing your power and how much interest you can bring to them.”
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