April 23, 2015 / 2:53 AM / 2 years ago

China begins trial of ally of retired security chief

China's former Public Security Minister Zhou Yongkang reacts as he attends the Hebei delegation discussion sessions at the 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China at the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing in this October 16, 2007 file photo. REUTERS/Jason Lee

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - A deposed leader of one of China’s most populous provinces on Thursday confessed to charges of bribery and abuse of power, in the latest trial of a senior official linked to retired security boss Zhou Yongkang amid a sweeping anti-graft campaign.

President Xi Jinping’s two-year crackdown has felled at least a dozen former associates and protégés of Zhou, the once-powerful domestic security tsar and member of the elite Politburo, and the most senior person charged with corruption.

Li Chuncheng, former deputy Communist Party boss of the southwestern province of Sichuan - one of Zhou’s strongholds - sought profits for others “under the influence of Zhou Yongkang”, according to a court statement.

Li, who was charged last year, damaged the public interest and caused significant losses to public coffers, the Xianning Intermediate People’s Court said on its official microblog, in dealings both directly and through his wife and others.

But Li maintained a “relatively good attitude” in confessing to his crimes, it added, signaling that his punishment could be lighter.

“I sincerely and honestly confess and express regret,” he said, according to the court’s statement.

For many years, Li oversaw the development of Sichuan province’s prosperous capital, Chengdu, until the party began investigating him for graft in late 2012.

Flanked by two towering policemen, Li appeared in court in Xianning, in the central province of Hubei, dressed in plain black jacket and wire-rimmed glasses, photos on the microblog showed.

Li began working in Sichuan in 1998 and had worked there ever since, rising up through the ranks to serve as provincial party boss from 1999 to 2002.

Zhou was charged with bribery, abuse of power and intentional disclosure of state secrets this month. He will be tried in Tianjin, a city near Beijing, but a date has not been set.

Last week, Jiang Jiemin, the former head of CNPC, China’s top energy group, and a close associate of Zhou, admitted his guilt and asked for leniency at his corruption trial.

Since taking power in 2013, Xi has launched a sweeping crackdown on corruption, warning corruption is a threat to the Communist Party’s survival.

Scores of senior figures in the ruling Communist Party, the military and state-owned enterprises have been caught in the crackdown.

Reporting by Sue-Lin Wong, Additional reporting by Megha Rajagopalan; Editing by Sui-Lee Wee and Clarence Fernandez

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