China official dealing with Taiwan accused of bribery

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s state prosecutor on Friday formally accused a former deputy head of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office with bribery and abuse of power, setting the stage for his trial.

Gong Qinggai was put under investigation by the ruling Communist Party in January. He is one of many officials targeted in an ongoing crackdown on corruption led by President Xi Jinping, but the case is particularly sensitive because of Beijing’s fraught relationship with Taiwan.

In a brief statement, the state prosecutor said Gong abused his power to “seek benefits for others” and illegally took large sums of money, meaning he will be prosecuted for bribery.

It said his suspected crimes took place while he held various government positions in the southeastern Chinese province of Fujian, which lies just across the narrow strait that separates China and Taiwan.

It was not possible to reach him for comment and unclear if he has been allowed to retain a lawyer. The legal system is controlled by the party, which will not challenge the accusations against him, meaning he is certain to be jailed.

In April, the party accused Gong of a variety of wrongdoing, including taking part in “superstitious activities”, which usually refers to religious practices prohibited to party officials. The charge is often leveled at officials already under investigation for corruption.

Gong joined the Taiwan Affairs Office, which is in charge of policy towards the island, in 2013, having previously spent his entire working career with the Fujian government, according to his official biography.

China considers self-ruled Taiwan a wayward province to be brought under Beijing’s control by force if needed. Defeated Nationalist forces fled there in 1949 at the end of China’s civil war.

China has jailed dozens of senior officials since Xi launched a sweeping campaign against graft after assuming office four years, vowing to go after powerful “tigers” as well as lowly “flies”.

Xi has said the problem is so severe it could affect the party’s grip on power.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore