A man that Chinese state media claim was the fortune teller and trusted confidante of purged Chinese security chief Zhou Yongkang was recently found guilty of corruption.
On July 8, the Yichang Immediate People’s Court in the province of Hubei in central China charged Cao Yongzheng with accepting bribes and making illegal land transfers. Cao, 57, was sentenced to seven years in prison, and fined 73 million yuan (about $11 million).
Cao pleaded guilty and won’t be appealing his charges, according to a statement by the court.
Nicknamed the “Xinjiang sage” by the Chinese press after the westernmost region of China where he hailed, Cao Yongzheng made his name in the 1990s by healing incurable illnesses and accurate soothsaying—Cao’s claim to fame was predicting China’s failed bid to host the 2000 Summer Olympics.
Chinese media reported that at the peak of Cao’s popularity, the waiting line for his clients stretched from the ground level to the seventh floor of his Beijing apartment. State mouthpiece China Central Television would also “honor” him with a close-up camera shot during the annual new year gala broadcast.
Cao soon ingratiated himself with top Chinese Communist Party officials and the other elite in Chinese society, leading him at one point to arrogantly dismiss the Forbes’s list of global billionaires as “no match for my pinky,” according to Chinese business magazine Caixin.
Cao’s personal influence and power reached new heights after he gained the confidence of Zhou Yongkang the former security chief. Caixin reported that Zhou would pat Cao’s arm and declare the fortune teller his “most trusted man.” During a closed-door trial, Cao testified that Zhou had handed him six classified government documents, five of which were marked top secret.
Zhou even saw that Cao had a generous slice of the lucrative state oil sector where he made his fortune. According to the semi-official Beijing Times, Cao owned a shell company worth 870 million yuan ($130 million) that enjoyed the benefits of Zhou’s largesse.
Although the Chinese Communist Party is officially atheist, it is common for Chinese officials—even former Party chiefs like Jiang Zemin—to seek masters of the dark arts like Cao Yongzheng to get their fortune told, according to China analyst Willy Lam, speaking to the Associated Press in a 2015 interview.
“The reason is clear—communism is dead,” Lam said. “It’s natural for cadres to turn to superstitious beliefs to ward off evil and to help them avoid the pitfalls in the cunning corridors of (politics).”