updated 24 Dec 2010, 07:14
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Mon, May 31, 2010
The Straits Times
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Cheat on me? I'll tell on you

BEIJING - The Chinese Communist Party may have found an unlikely ally in its 'life and death' battle with corruption.

As a spate of recent cases demonstrates, the angry, estranged spouses of corrupt officials are emerging as a new breed of accidental graft busters - more than willing to expose the dirty deeds of their once beloved as soon as the relationship turns sour.

The strained married lives of corrupt officials - 95 per cent of whom keep mistresses, according to a 2005 study by a government think-tank - are well-documented.

But scholars say their wives, who have chosen in the past to suffer in silence because of how hard it is to convince anti-corruption agencies to act, are now discovering the Internet as a new and effective avenue for whistle-blowing.

Not surprisingly, it is the philandering male official who is most likely to be stabbed in the back by an aggrieved wife, sometimes even with the help of their children. A dramatic case in February in Anhui's Dangshan county saw the arrest of local land bureau official Liu Jianghui after his ex-wife and their 17-year-old son called on anti-corruption officials to investigate him for graft.

But corrupt male officials are not the only vulnerable ones. In March, a Beijing-based official with the China Securities Regulatory Commission, Ms Li Li, faced allegations of insider trading after she was exposed by her husband.

In turning informant, indignant spouses join a long list of close associates, including drivers, maids and mistresses, who have been known to spill the beans on corrupt officials. But some observers say spouses may be the weakest link yet, for two reasons.

First, while the other 'traitors' are often motivated by concern for their personal safety, and usually start talking only under the intense pressure of police interrogations, spouses are motivated by spite - their public, out-of-the-blue allegations often forcing the authorities to initiate investigations. Furthermore, spouses usually have access to more private and incriminating evidence. They have produced photos and even tape recordings of damning conversations to back their allegations.

Analysts add that this latest trend stems from the fact that sex has become such a common feature in China's graft cases. In what local scholars call quan se jiao yi, or exchanging power for sexual favours, those looking to butter officials up often try to seduce them with women.

In theory, whistle-blowing by spouses bodes well for China's war on corruption, a problem estimated to cause economic losses of up to 17 per cent of its GDP every year. It means potential access to an army of millions of ad hoc graft busters, sleeping right next to corrupt officials.

It brings to mind a similar phenomenon during the Cultural Revolution, when ordinary people were rewarded for accusing their loved ones of 'thought crimes'.

However, the authorities remain suspicious. Quite often they try, in private, to discourage the whistle-blowing spouses from coming forward, as Professor Wang Yukai of the Chinese Academy of Governance points out.

Mindful of the far-reaching implications a case involving, say, a high-ranking official may have on its legitimacy, the ruling party is wary of this spontaneous new form of corruption fighting that it has little control over.

But determined wives can still prevail by turning to the Internet. Last year, a district party chief in Jiangsu's Xuzhou city, Dong Feng, was sentenced to 13 years in jail after his wife snitched on him.

She revealed in media interviews later that after her earlier letters to the local anti-corruption office evoked no response, she posted the allegations on the Internet. This forced the hand of the authorities, which suspended Dong from his duties three days after the online posting and arrested him a week later.

Said Professor Wang: 'This is a very good example of how people are holding government officials to account through the Internet.'

>> Dirty secrets exposed by family

This article was first published in The Straits Times.

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