China corruption watchdog says focus is on prevention

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BEIJING, Sep 20 (Reuters) The fall of Shanghai's Communist Party boss underlined a need to prevent corruption rather than just acting after crimes are committed, an official said during a rare media visit to the Party's anti-graft agency.

Chi Yaoyun, deputy director-general of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, said the web of graft investigations involving Shanghai's former Party secretary, Chen Liangyu, demonstrated China was determined to root out corruption.

But during today's carefully escorted tour of the agency, Chi said the scandal also showed that more must be done to prevent such abuses, which Communist Party leaders regularly warn could ultimately threaten their grip on power.

''The lesson of that case is that, as well as concentrating on constantly fighting corruption, we need to put more effort into preventing corruption,'' Chi told reporters. ''We need to pay even more attention to addressing the root causes.'' With his grip on China's financial centre, Chen had resisted the authority of President Hu Jintao, who is set to gain another five years as national Party chief and consolidate his authority at a congress opening in mid-October.

Hu has promoted himself as a puritanical foe of official abuses and high-living.

The 800 staff of the inspection commission sit at the apex of a nationwide effort to stop official kickbacks, bribes and illicit payments. The government recently added another government agency focused on preventing graft.

RESULTS SHOWING But many ordinary Chinese say cases such as Chen's only show that the abuses are endemic and getting worse in a country that combines a booming, ill-regulated economy with a top-down, one-party state.

Chi insisted the opposite was true. The Party's crackdown on corruption, and the development of new agencies and ways to deter corruption, were showing results, he said.

''We don't deny that to some extent in certain spheres there is corruption,'' he said, later adding that land deals and the financial system were hotspots of abuse.

''Now we're in a stage when the economy is undergoing profound structural change,'' he said by way of explanation.

The Commission for Discipline Inspection is a Party watchdog to handle wayward Party members and officials. It can pass on cases to criminal prosecutors for possible trial.

While China was happy to show domestic and foreign reporters the Party's anti-graft watchdog, that candour only went so far.

Officials shepherded reporters through the glinting, polished-stone building that houses many of its staff.

Investigators sat stiffly at their desks reading books. Photos were not allowed.

Chi said he could not provide statistics on corruption investigations, nor any details of the investigation into Chen, which is likely to culminate in a criminal trial soon.

Chi said the investigators had recently dealt with several major cases, including Zheng Xiaoyu, the former food and drug safety chief executed for taking bribes, and Qiu Xiaohua, the former head of the national statistics agency, who was sacked amid allegations of mistresses and financial shenanigans.

But asked about the former finance minister, Jin Renqing, who was abruptly removed recently amid a cloud of speculation about mistresses and cronyism, Chi paused.

''As far as I know there is no such investigation,'' he said.

REUTERS SZ AS1206

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