China's graft watchdog turns camera on itself in TV series

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s top graft watchdog has begun airing a three-part television series highlighting corruption within its ranks, sending a message that there will be no omissions in Chinese President Xi Jinping’s war on corruption.

In nightly episodes beginning Tuesday the series reveals how inspection officials traded on their position of power for expensive gifts, such as pearls, designer watches and gold bars, and cash bribes dating back to the 1990s.

“To Forge Iron, The Metal Itself Must be Strong”, takes its name from a 2012 Xi speech and aims to show there are no blindspots in the Central Commission of Discipline and Inspection (CCDI) investigations, the narrator explains.

At a meeting of high-level party officials in Beijing last October focusing on internal part discipline, Xi stressed the need for the CCDI to “clean its own door step”.

In the first episode the narrator quotes commission head Wang Qishan as saying that the CCDI “resolutely guards against their being darkness beneath the light”.

Xi has vowed to stamp out deep-seated corruption in the ruling Communist Party, vowing to go after powerful “tigers” as well as lowly “flies”.

The “tiger” interviewed in the first episode, Zhu Mingguo, a one-time graft-buster and former Guangdong representative of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, said he exploited gaps in the Party’s oversight system while in power.

Zhu said he received over a thousand of bottles of expensive alcohol as gifts and had received bribes dating back to the 1990s, stashing the money in his home.

He is quoted by the narrator as warning other corrupt officials against attempting to destroy evidence or to flee abroad, saying that such tactics will not work and will only serve to make their crimes more severe.

Designer watches, pearls and gold bars are among the spoils of other former inspectors featured.

The TV series follows the CCDI’s first TV program “Always on the road”, aired in October, 2016, that offered the first behind the scenes look at China’s most dramatic corruption cases.

Since Xi come to power in late 2012, dozens of senior Communist Party people have been jailed for corruption, including China’s once powerful domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang, who was jailed for life sentence in 2015.

But as the number of high-profile corruption cases begins to fall, the anti-graft campaign, which enjoys widespread public support, has begun to shift towards lower level officials, making almost anyone a target.

Reporting by Christian Shepherd; Editing by Michael Perry