A former Chinese official involved in a sex tape scandal was tried at court on Wednesday on corruption charges.
In November last year, a sex tape featuring Lei Zhengfu, former Party secretary of Beibei District in Chongqing City, southwest China, and his young mistress surfaced online and was widely circulated, earning him Internet infamy overnight. Lei was dismissed from his post three days later.
It was Chinese investigative journalist Zhu Ruifeng who revealed that Lei was trapped in a blackmail scheme by a businessman, Xiao Ye, who hired the woman, named Zhao Hongxia, in 2007 to engage in sexual acts with him. Xiao and Zhao are also scheduled to go on trial.
After Lei’s sex tape was exposed, 10 other officials who reportedly appeared in other sex tapes that Xiao set up were also fired from their posts.
On Wednesday, Lei was tried for accepting bribes of around 3.16 million yuan ($515,000), 3 million of which ($490,000) was involved in the sex tape scandal. Lei had been blackmailed for that amount, and allowed a third party to pay the blackmail ransom for him, which effectively constituted a bribe, according to the court testimony.
Some netizens took the opportunity to dig up old propaganda photos of Lei, including one where he is shown with an elderly man wrapping glutinous rice with leaves to make the traditional Chinese food, zongzi, eaten during the traditional Duanwu Festival. The caption of the photo reads: “The Beibei District took the opportunity of the Duanwu holiday to practically solve real-life problems that the disadvantaged population face in their lives, striving to be the people’s best public servant.”
Lei may be guilty of more corruption than the court is trying him for. Investigative journalist Zhu had told the Oriental Morning Post last year that Lei accumulated large sums of money through helping his relatives score construction projects when he was Party chief in Dianjiang County, Chongqing. Local builders who wanted their projects greenlighted would also send women to Lei as sexual bribes.
According to Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily, Xiao, who was also the owner of a major local construction company, trained a number of young women to sexually bribe and blackmail local officials in 2006.
In 2009, Xiao’s firm wasn’t getting new construction projects, so he threatened Lei with the video. Lei reported the issue to the police chief of Chongqing, Wang Lijun, who then had Xiao imprisoned for a year and the young woman Zhao placed under criminal detention for a month. Meanwhile, Lei was promoted to Party secretary in Beibei District.
Investigative journalist Zhu told BBC on Wednesday that the court is likely using the Lei trial only as a means to punish Xiao and other parties, and not to investigate Lei’s crimes. “Officials like Lei Zhengfu has taken who knows how much money. This trial is happening only because netizens are condemning him so much that they have no choice.”