China to prosecute former senior spy catcher for graft

BEIJING (Reuters) - China will prosecute one its former spy chiefs after accusing him of bribery and abusing his power to interfere in law enforcement, the ruling Communist Party said on Friday.

Ma Jian, once a vice minister at China’s Ministry of State Security, is the most senior security official to be investigated since former domestic security tsar Zhou Yongkang was ensnared in a graft scandal and jailed for life last year.

Ma, who was put under investigation in January 2015, has been expelled from the party and will be handed over to the legal authorities, said the party’s graft watchdog the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, meaning he will be prosecuted.

An investigation found Ma abused his position to benefit family members’ business interests, interfered in unspecified law enforcement activities and took bribes, the graft watchdog said in a short statement.

It was not possible to reach Ma for comment and unclear if he had retained a lawyer. The courts are controlled by the party and will not challenge its accusations.

The powerful state security ministry is a KGB-like operation that spies on its citizens and foreigners domestically and internationally. It is one of the most opaque agencies in China and does not have a public website or spokesperson.

A source with ties to the leadership has previously told Reuters that Ma was director of the ministry’s “No.8 bureau”, which is responsible for counter-espionage activities on foreigners, mainly diplomats, businessmen and reporters.

Ma worked at the spy agency for more than 30 years and was closely tied to Ling Jihua, a one-time senior aide to former President Hu Jintao, according to the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post.

Ling Jihua was jailed for life in July.

Separately, a court in the northern city of Zhengzhou on Friday jailed a former top security official in restive Tibet for 13 years.

Le Dake, who was head of the State Security Department in Tibet from 2004 to 2013, was found guilty of bribery, the court said in a statement on its official microblog.

It was not possible to reach Le or a representative for comment.

China has ruled majority Buddhist Tibet with an iron hand since People’s Liberation Army troops “peacefully liberated” the region in 1950.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie