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Former top Chinese official gets life in prison on corruption charges

Sun Zhengcai, a former top Chinese Communist Party official once considered a potential successor to President Xi Jinping, has been sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of taking bribes.

Sun, a former Communist Party chief of Chongqing municipality, told a court in northern China on Tuesday that he will accept the ruling and would not appeal it, according to state media.

"I sincerely admit my guilt and regret my crime," Sun was seen telling the First Intermediate People's Court of Tianjin on national broadcaster China Central Television. "I will seriously reform myself," he said and bowed.

Last month, Sun admitted to accepting more than 170 million yuan ($27 million) between 2002 and 2017, in both property and cash, when he held various posts across China.

The amount of bribes involved was punishable by death but the court said that it took mitigating factors into account, including that most of the bribes were taken by "designated parties" and that Sun gave investigators additional, previously unknown information about his crimes.

Chinese news outlet Caixin had reported that Sun's "designated parties" included two businesswomen.

The court said that Sun committed the crimes while he was a district Communist Party boss in Beijing in 2002, when he was the minister of agriculture, and during his stints as Party chief of northeastern Jilin province and the megacity of Chongqing.

The court said that Sun took advantage of his position to seek profits for others, including helping others to win project tenders, secure government approvals on projects and gain promotions.

Sun was sacked as Chongqing's Party boss in July and placed under investigation for corruption in the run-up to the Party's national leadership reshuffle in October.

Sun, 54, was a former member of the ruling Communist Party's Politburo -- China's top decision-making body -- and considered a future leader at the time of his downfall.

Sun's case echoes the downfall of his predecessor Bo Xilai, the former Chongqing Party boss from 2007-2012, who was also once a power rival of President Xi. In 2013, Bo was charged with corruption and sentenced to life in prison, making the leadership of this particular city something of a poisoned chalice.

Sun was replaced in Chongqing by Chen Miner, a protégé of President Xi and a rising political star. Chen was promoted to the 25-member Politburo in October's national Party congress.

Since taking power in 2012, President Xi has promoted a massive campaign as a way to stamp out corruption throughout China. More than one million officials have been punished since he became president.

Sun had been seen as a contender for China's presidency because his career path was following the trajectory of past leaders. In 2012, the then Chongqing Party boss became the youngest member of the 25-person Politburo. Originally, Sun looked likely to get a further elevation into the Party's innermost circle, the seven-person Politburo Standing Committee, during the Party's leadership reshuffle event in October—until Party watchers noticed him missing from a ceremony for his replacement to run Chongqing.

With Sun sacked, Xi ended up picking no one in his fifties to join the standing committee, leaving a vacancy for his potential heir apparent. In March, the Chinese leader moved to abolish the presidential term limits with a constitutional change, dismantling the only institutional obstacle for him to rule for a third five-year term—or for life.
 


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