The ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has expelled former vice minister for public security Sun Lijun for "serious violations of discipline" on the eve of its Oct. 1 National Day celebrations, accusing him of building cliques and cabals to take over a key government department.
Sun, who has been held by the CCP's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) for several months, was found to have "overweening political ambitions" and "arbitrarily disagreed with central policy guidelines," the CCDI said in a statement on its official website.
Sun had "created and spread political rumors, taken actions against others, wove a web of deceit to obtain political capital and ... used unscrupulous means ... to form gangs, cliques and interest groups within the party and build his personal power," the Sept. 30 statement said.
"He formed a cabal to take control over [a] key department[s], seriously jeopardizing political security and party unity," it said.
Under the CCP hierarchy, the most critical departments are the "leading groups" under the CCP Central Committee, which coordinate the work of the ministries under them.
Departments engaged in military work, the domestic and external security apparatus, economic management, and ideology and propaganda are also considered crucial.
Sun's inclusion in the leading group managing the COVID-19 pandemic suggests that the public health emergency was also seen as a potential threat to domestic security, and the stability of the CCP regime.
According to the CCDI, Sun had also built a private stash of confidential materials, resigned without authorization on the frontline of the pandemic, and placed his "cronies" in positions of power.
The CCDI also accused Sun of "extreme greed" and of illegally accepting huge amounts of assets while in office.
"Sun Lijun seriously violated the party’s political discipline, organizational discipline and integrity as well as Chinese laws, and is a criminal suspect," it said, saying the nature of Sun's alleged offenses was "particularly serious."
It said the CCDI and the Central Committee had decided that Sun should be expelled from the CCP and from any public posts held, and his case transferred to the state prosecutor, paving the way for a trial.
A selective campaign
Hu Ping, U.S.-based founder of the online magazine Beijing Spring, said Sun was definitely corrupt, but that didn't explain why he was only being investigated now.
"He has been corrupt for a very long time, so why is he falling from grace now?" Hu said. "It shows that Xi Jinping's anti-corruption campaign is selective."
"Anyone who is seen as politically reliable by Xi Jinping will be safe," he said.
Hu said the accusation that Sun had stored confidential materials was particularly important, as there had been rumors that Sun had leaked secrets about the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic to Australia.
"This is why Australia is getting particularly tough on China on the issue of tracing the origins [of the pandemic]," Hu said. "Maybe those rumors weren't groundless after all."
Sun, 52, has a degree in public health from New South Wales State University in Australia.
He was promoted to deputy minister for public security in 2018, and has previously served as director of the Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan office within the same ministry.
His last public appearance was in March 2020 in Wuhan, where the pandemic emerged in late 2019, and where Sun was sent as part of a central government steering group to lead the pandemic response.
U.S.-based legal scholar Teng Biao said Sun's downfall is likely connected with a power struggle in the corridors of Zhongnanhai.
"At the very least, we can see that the power struggle in party ranks has intensified," Teng said. "The CCDI makes no secret of that in its report."
The CCDI statement was published one day after a meeting in Beijing of the public security leading group's education and rectification group.
Executive vice minister for public security Wang Xiaohong told the meeting that it was important to "totally eliminate the drug-like influence of [jailed security minister] Zhou Yongkang, [detained former Interpol president] Meng Hongwei, Sun Lijun and others" from the team to ensure "purity."
'The entire inside story'
A former local official in the domestic security apparatus who gave only the surname He said he was surprised by the admission that Sun had stashed secret documents.
"The most important thing in this announcement is that he kept a large number of top-secret documents in his possession," He said. "Given his professional expertise [relating to the pandemic], why was Sun Lijun detained?"
"The main reason is that he knows the entire inside story of [China's handling of] the pandemic," He said.
"He felt at the time that the measures being introduced would be disastrous, and so he lodged a complaint with the highest authorities," He said. "That's tantamount to saying the emperor has no clothes on."
"You come to a sticky end in this system if you annoy your superiors."
A Chinese journalist with connections to the political elite, who gave only the surname Liu, said professionalism has never been of much account in deciding the fate of CCP leaders.
"It's never about whether you are professional or unprofessional, but always about whether you are loyal or disloyal," Liu said. "If you won't be used by [the CCP], then you could bring disaster down on them."
Repeated calls to the ministry of public security and the Hubei provincial coronavirus prevention and control headquarters rang unanswered on Oct. 1, which is a national holiday in China.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.