BEIJING (Reuters) - The former Communist Party chief of Beijing who was at the heart of one of China’s biggest political scandals before this year’s upheaval over Bo Xilai has challenged charges that brought him prison and disgrace in a book likely to stir controversy.
Chen Xitong was dismissed as Communist Party secretary of Beijing in 1995 and later jailed on corruption charges, which many observers at the time saw as resulting from a power struggle pitting him against then President Jiang Zemin.
Chen was also mayor of Beijing during the student-led protests that filled the Chinese capital in 1989, culminating in the quelling on June 4 of the demonstrators who had made Tiananmen Square their base.
Now, days before the 23rd anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown, Chen has denied the corruption charges and any prominent role in 1989, in a book likely to evoke the scandal over Bo, the fallen party boss of the municipality of Chongqing.
Before his downfall in March, Bo called rumored accusations swirling around his family a “pile of nonsense” concocted by foes.
Chen gives a similar defense in a Chinese-language book of interviews to be published soon in Hong Kong. Reuters obtained an advance copy.
“This was the worst miscarriage of justice involving a high-level leader since the Cultural Revolution, or since 1989 - it was an absurd miscarriage of justice,” Chen says of the corruption and abuse of power charges that brought him a 16-year jail term in 1998. Chen won medical parole in 2004.
Although Chen’s assertions about 1989 and his own downfall appear likely to draw dispute, they suggest how, as with Bo, charges against ousted Chinese leaders are often near impossible to separate from broader political contention.
“In a power struggle, any means possible - any low-handed means - will be used, and the objective is to seize power,” Chen said, while denying accusations of scheming and disloyalty against President Jiang that accompanied his downfall.
“But I didn’t take part in any power struggle, no matter what they think,” he said of his unidentified accusers.
The ambitious Bo was brought down after a furor erupted when his former police chief, Wang Lijun, fled to a U.S. consulate for more than 24 hours in February.
Before the scandal broke, Bo was seen as a candidate to join China’s top leadership team to be unveiled this year.
Wang told U.S. diplomats that he believed Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, was implicated in the murder in November of a British businessman, Neil Heywood, who was a friend of the Bo family, according to later descriptions of Wang’s allegations.
Bo was suspended from the party’s top ranks in April.
Chen, who turns 82 in June, laid out his denials of the corruption charges against him in a series of interviews with Yao Jianfu, a former official and researcher, in the book published by Hong Kong’s New Century Media.
“It is a rare first-person account regarding the Tiananmen crackdown from a man widely believed to be responsible for the government’s violent solution,” publisher Bao Pu said.
“Chen Xitong apparently feels that he shoulders more of the blame for the Tiananmen crackdown than he deserves.”
Chen’s interviews with Yao took place in 2011 and 2012, while Chen was in a hospital in Beijing, according to the book.
Chen said that he was nothing more than a figurehead in 1989, and denied accusations he used his access to paramount leader Deng Xiaoping to exaggerate the threat posed by student protesters demanding political reform and an end to corruption.
Deng was not bamboozled by subordinates into ordering the armed crackdown on the protesters, said Chen.
“In fact, he had many sources and eyes and ears,” Chen said of Deng’s knowledge of the 1989 protests. “How could Deng Xiaoping have been deceived? Saying that underestimates him.”
Editing by Brian Rhoads and Robert Birsel