BEIJING—A Chinese military court sentenced a senior general who had been chief of a top defense department to life in prison on Feb. 20 after finding him guilty of corruption, state news agency Xinhua reported.
China’s military, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which is the world’s largest and is in the midst of a modernization campaign, has been an important focus of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s battle to stamp out corruption.
The senior general, Fang Fenghui, who had accompanied Xi to his first meeting with President Donald Trump in 2017, was replaced as chief of the Joint Staff Department of the People’s Liberation Army later that year with no explanation.
The government later confirmed he was being investigated on suspicion of corruption.
Fang was subsequently replaced as a member of the Central Military Commission, headed by Xi and which controls the armed forces, at a five-yearly Communist Party congress in October 2017, as part of a sweeping military leadership reshuffle.
Xinhua said a court martial had found Fang guilty of bribery and having huge wealth that he had been unable to account for.
His illicit assets will be confiscated and given to the Communist Party, it added, without elaborating.
It was not possible to reach Fang for comment as he is in jail. It is unclear whether he was allowed to retain a lawyer or who that person may be.
Epoch Times political commentator Zhou Xiaohui said that Fang’s being charged with accepting bribes was to be expected: high-ranking military officers are known to regularly accept cash and gift bribes from their underlings, and in return dispense promotions and other benefits. Yet, Zhou noted, “given Fang’s position in the military, the number of higher-ranking officers he could have bribed is extremely small.”
Zhou added: “Then-serving CMC vice chairs Guo Boxiong and Xu Caihou, both confidants of Jiang Zemin, are the two most likely candidates.”
Dozens of officers have been investigated and jailed, including Xu Caihou and Guo Boxiong, both former vice chairmen of the Central Military Commission. Guo was jailed for life in 2017. Xu died of cancer in 2015 before he could face trial.
Fang was a subordinate of Guo, once China’s highest-ranked military official, who gained power through loyalty to former Party leader Jiang Zemin. Guo enabled Jiang to control the military from behind the curtains, long after Jiang formally stepped down from the Party leadership position.
Zhang Yang, who served on the commission alongside Fang, committed suicide in November 2017 while being investigated for corruption and over his links to Guo and Xu.
Xi Jinping had been cleaning house within the military to purge any remaining influences of Jiang and his faction.
By Ben Blanchard. The Epoch Times contributed to this report.