BEIJING (Reuters) - One of the most senior Chinese military officers to be accused of corruption has died of cancer, the state news agency Xinhua said on Monday, sparing the government what could have been an embarrassing trial.
Xu Caihou retired as vice chairman of the powerful Central Military Commission in 2013 and from the ruling Communist Party’s decision-making Politburo in 2012.
In a brief statement released shortly after midnight, Xinhua said that Xu had died in hospital on Sunday of multiple organ failure bought on by bladder cancer after efforts to save him failed.
His illness had previously been reported by the government.
Though he has died, his “illegal gains” will still be dealt with in accordance with the law, the report added, without providing further details. China’s Defence Ministry carried the same Xinhua report on its website.
It was not immediately possible to reach family members for comment.
President Xi Jinping heads the Central Military Commission, which controls the 2.3 million-strong armed forces, the world’s largest, and has made weeding out corruption in the military a top goal.
The government said in October than Xu had confessed to taking “massive” bribes in exchange for help in promotions.
Xu had been under investigation since last March, state media said
The party leadership had faced a dilemma over whether to prosecute Xu because of his cancer, sources have said.
His death means the ruling Communist Party will not have to risk the embarrassment that could have come from a trial and the details of graft in the highest echelons of power that it might have revealed, though the trial likely would have been held behind closed doors.
But China is also investigating a second former top military officer on suspicion of corruption, two independent sources told Reuters recently, as Xi widens his campaign against deep-rooted graft.
Guo Boxiong, 72, was another vice chairman of the Central Military Commission until he stepped down in 2012. The government has yet to confirm this probe.
Serving and retired military officers have said graft in the armed forces is so pervasive that it could undermine China’s ability to wage war.
China intensified its crackdown on corruption in the military in the late 1990s, banning the People’s Liberation Army from engaging in business. But the military has been involved in commercial dealings in recent years due to a lack of checks and balances, military analysts have said.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Kevin Liffey