BEIJING — A Chinese court on Thursday sentenced a former top security official to life in prison, the latest high-profile figure to fall in President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign.
Ma Jian, 62, a former vice minister of the Ministry of State Security, was convicted of taking $15.9 million in bribes, committing insider trading, and using coercive business practices, the Dalian Intermediate People’s Court said on its website.
But it was another part of Ma’s past that had drawn attention lately: his ties to Guo Wengui, the billionaire Chinese fugitive who has unleashed a barrage of embarrassing accusations against Communist Party leaders from his New York penthouse.
The court said that from 2008 to 2014, Ma colluded with Guo, a real estate tycoon who was among China’s richest men, using threats to force sales that benefited Guo’s businesses. Guo fled China in 2015.
The sentencing of Ma was another sign that Xi has no intention of easing his signature anti-corruption drive, which has ensnared thousands of officials, high and low. As he begins his second five-year term in office, Xi, China’s most powerful leader in decades, appears intent on using the drive to consolidate his control of all levers of the party.
“Under authoritarian regimes, power is performative, which means Xi must continue to prove his unrivaled authority through selective actions like the move against Ma,” said Jude Blanchette, a political analyst who is a senior adviser and China head at Crumpton Group.
Blanchette added that Ma’s sentencing might unintentionally fuel the perception that Chinese politics have become “increasingly vicious” under Xi.
Since Guo began his attacks on the party last year, using social media to accuse officials of graft and other crimes, Beijing has worked tirelessly to discredit him.
Last year, a video confession by Ma surfaced online. In the video, Ma, shown in a black puffer jacket with his hands folded together, said he had accepted millions of dollars in gifts from Guo in exchange for favors.
“Guo Wengui, to ingratiate himself with me, to thank me, and to maintain his relationship with me, gave me a huge amount of benefits,” Ma said in the video. Guo is working with Stephen Bannon, President Trump’s former chief strategist, to set up a $100 million fund to investigate corruption and aid people they deem victims of persecution by the Chinese government.
In the announcement on Thursday, the court said that Ma, who was first placed under investigation in 2015 and was later expelled from the party, would not appeal the verdict. It said that he had received a “lighter” sentence because he had confessed to his crimes, shown regret, and returned the bribes.
More than 50 people were present for Ma’s sentencing in Dalian, including members of his family, the court said.