At a Wedding, Airport, or the Office—China Anti-Corruption Agents Take Targets Unawares

April 6, 2015 Updated: April 6, 2015

When do Chinese officials suspected of corruption know when their number is up? Ideally, only when agents with the much-feared anti-corruption bureau, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), show up in front of them.

The method of taking officials by surprise seems to have become an important part of the basic process behind the current anti-corruption campaign, led by Party leader Xi Jinping and carried out by his deputy, CCDI chief Wang Qishan.

With foreknowledge of an impending arrest, officials would be able to mobilize their own support networks, fight back, or flee the country. Being able to evade capture would hardly instill the fear that Wang announced should be at the forefront of the average cadre’s mind, where they “don’t dare to be corrupt,” he said in a widely reported September 2014 address.

And so Party officials are being hauled away while trying to escape China, or while donning disguises (one dressed as an old man and rode in a pedicab with his two bags of cash), or while they’re enjoying themselves in front of their friends, colleagues, or, in one case, a daughter on her wedding day.

Rough Day at the Office

Most officials are nabbed while at work.

Wan Qingling is a typical case: The former head of the Chinese Communist Party in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, was lured to a “high-profile” meeting. He was frogmarched out by CCDI officers.

People’s Daily Online Net, the Web version of the state mouthpiece People’s Daily, later ran an article saying that such methods are a common tactic for busting prideful officials and showing those at the “meeting” what becomes of those who are mired in corruption.

An office arrest is not entirely foolproof, though, as officials can and have tried to take their lives to avoid being taken in. For example, Yang Weize, a provincial-level official working as Party secretary of Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, tried to jump from a window of the provincial Party headquarters when he realized that the corruption busters were on to him; agents managed to tackle and restrain him before he made the leap.

Departure Delayed

One of the first major officials to be taken down, Li Chuncheng, was stopped at Beijing Capital International Airport by CCDI officers on Dec. 2, 2012, apparently as he was trying to escape the country.

Li told the officers that he needed to use bathroom, where he “tried to remove a SIM card from his phone,” but the former deputy Party secretary of Sichuan Province couldn’t avoid arrest.

CCDI agents eventually got more efficient. In April 2014, Shen Weichen, the then-Party secretary and vice president of the China Association for Science and Technology, landed at Beijing airport after a domestic trip. People hired to pick up Shen made a police report after he failed to show up when all passengers disembarked.

The mystery of Shen’s disappearance was solved at night—CCDI announced on its website that Shen was being investigated for a “violation of the law.”

An Unconvincing Disguise

In August 2013, Jin Jianping, the ex-president of Tianjin Gas Group, originally tried to flee investigators by leaving the country. After colluding with some private companies to throw the corruption busters’ off the scent and transferring property to relatives, Jin tried to escape to Hong Kong first via Tianjin.

Jin never made it to Hong Kong, though, as airport officers barred him from boarding a plane. He got away by pretending that he had left some items back at home, then fled to neighboring Xianghe County, Hebei Province.

Although Jin tried to lie low, CCDI agents spotted an old man with “a shabby-looking hat, riding a trishaw” in the streets that looked remarkably like the gas boss, and outed him. Corruption busters found 1.5 million yuan (about $242,000) in cash stuffed in two travel bags.

Daughter’s Wedding 

Wang Debao, the vice mayor of Nanjing, was nabbed at his own daughter’s wedding by three to five men who had stood around at the back of the room saying little and smoking cigarettes.

Some people spotted the CCDI officers, and hurriedly left without taking their overcoats.

But unlike the office meeting arrest, which are staged to drive home a point, the “wedding arrest” went so smoothly and discreetly that many guests didn’t realize that the father of the bride was missing.

Follow Frank on Twitter: @HwaiDer