World News

Factbox: Catching tigers and hidden flies in China's energy sector

BEIJING (Reuters) - The Chinese government placed Nur Bekri, the head of the National Energy Administration (NEA), under investigation for suspected graft on Friday. He is one of the country’s most senior ethnic Uighur officials and was a former governor of the restive region of Xinjiang.

Bekri, who’s also deputy chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), is the latest in a long list of disgraced communist party leaders from China’s energy sector.

The NEA, launched in 2008 to regulate China’s sprawling energy industry from coal and nuclear to oil, has become one of the government bodies most exposed to corruption and has been under increasing scrutiny from China’s anti-graft watchdog.

At least 12 senior-level NEA officials have been investigated or charged with corruption in the past decade, including two directors and four deputy directors.

Currently the NEA only has 42 senior positions, according to its website.

The government did not give any details about Bekri’s alleged wrongdoings.

Officials from China’s oil and coal sector have been among the most high profile corruption cases ever since President Xi Jinping started the anti-corruption campaign aiming at catching “both big tigers and flies”.

China’s state-owned enterprises in the energy sector also produced the largest number of officials and managers being investigated for corruption in the past few years, according to Zhuang Deshui, Vice Director of the anti-corruption research center from Peking University said.

“Energy industry as a rare resource is dominated by these state-owned enterprises and government departments such as NDRC, Finance Ministry and NEA,” he said. “They hold the power to approve mining and exploration rights, manage distribution and set prices of energy products. As the economy grows, demand for energy also rises, which makes these people more vulnerable to corruption.”

Reuters has compiled a list of the corruption cases in the energy sector during the past five years.

** In 2014, Chinese authorities have seized assets worth at least 90 billion yuan ($13.16 billion) from family members and associates of retired domestic security tsar Zhou Yongkang. Investigators seized cars, liquor and gold from Zhou’s home, who once served as a former head of China’s largest oil producer China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC).

**CNPC’s former head Jiang Jiemin, and Vice Chairman Liao Yongyuan were also sentenced to jail in the wake of Zhou’s fall in 2015.

**An anti-graft campaign in China’s top coal producing region of Shanxi province led to the punishment of 15,450 officials in 2014 alone.

**Wei Pengyuan, a former deputy director of NEA’s coal department, was found with so much hoarded cash that it took investigators using five cash-counting machines 14 hours to record the amount, with one of the devices breaking down due to the excessive workload, CCTV reported.

**Wang Xiaolin was a senior vice president with Shenhua Energy Co Ltd before becoming a deputy director with NEA in 2015 who has been under investigation since January.

**China has brought down 254 high-level political leaders for corruption in the past six years with 77 working in the oil and gas sector. Shanxi province has had the largest number of officials arrested, sentenced or investigated this year, according to data collected by website China File.

($1 = 6.8399 Chinese yuan renminbi)

Reporting by Meng Meng and Aizhu Chen; Editing by Christian Schmollinger