Chinese actress Fan Bingbing arrives at the opening ceremony of the 71st edition of the Cannes Film Festival in southern France. Photo: AFP /  Loic Venance
Chinese actress Fan Bingbing arrives at the opening ceremony of the 71st edition of the Cannes Film Festival in southern France. Photo: AFP / Loic Venance

Enforcer Yang Xiaodu prefers to adopt a low-profile despite running the high-profile National Supervisory Commission. The 64-year-old was hand-picked by President Xi Jinping for the anti-corruption agency when it was set up earlier this year.

For Xi, his trusted aide was the logical choice. Yang had worked for the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection after spending 25 years in Tibet, where he rose through the ranks to become vice-chairman of the autonomous region.

In 2007, he moved back to his home city of Shanghai and worked alongside Xi when he was the Communist Party boss there.

“That is why he was offered the top job,” Wang Kun-yi, a professor at Tamkang University in Taipei, said, regarding Yang’s role in the Commission.

Since then, the NSC has created more waves than a tsunami with a series of highly-political investigations, involving a leading player at Interpol and an A-listed movie star among others.

Earlier this month, Meng Hongwei, the vice-minister of Public Security and former president of the French-based international crime-fighting organization, was accused of bribery after a routine trip to Beijing.

Before that, China’s leading movie actress Fan Bingbing was investigated for evading taxes. She later apologized for her sins and agreed to pay back up to 884 million yuan ($128 million).

The alternative would probably have been a quick trial and a long prison sentence as the conviction rate in the country is more than 99%.

Online, she was remorseful after “disappearing” from the public view in the summer.

“As a public figure, I should have abided by laws and regulations, and been a role model in the industry and society,” Fan, who played Blink in the Hollywood blockbuster X-Men: Days of Future Past, said. “I shouldn’t have lost self-restraint or become lax in managing [my companies], which led to the violation of laws, in the name of economic interests.

‘Favorable policies’

“Without the favorable policies of the Communist Party and state, without the love of the people, there would have been no Fan Bingbing,” she added in another act of contrition.

The next case in the pending tray has Meng’s name on it after being caught up in Yang’s NSC dragnet. With razor-sharp teeth, the agency has a license to chill suspects whatever their station in life.

But while NSC has sweeping powers, transparency does not appear to be part of its brief. It does, though, have a close working relationship with the Communist Party’s own anti-graft body, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.

Before the rise of the NSC, it was the only watchdog in the corridors of power and was used by Xi after taking office as general secretary of the CCP six years ago. When he launched his anti-corruption crusade back then, the CCDI leapt into action.

“After five years of an anti-corruption campaign that investigated more than 2.7 million officials, punished more than 1.5 million and criminally tried 58,000, Xi pressed for reform of the supervision system to more effectively constrain the power of public servants ‘in a cage of regulations’ under CCP leadership,” Jamie P Horsley, a senior fellow at the Paul Tsai China Center and a visiting lecturer in law at Yale, wrote on the Brookings Institution website.

“Missing” and “disappeared” are words usually associated with NSC targets.

Many end up like Sun Shanwu. The former leading political adviser in central China’s Henan province is still locked up in the maximum security Qincheng prison in Beijing.

Cells are now at a premium as Xi’s crackdown continues.

Yet Sun has always insisted he is innocent and just another victim of a controversial legal system, which has, and is, being harnessed to punish political opponents of the president and his inner circle.

Cases are shrouded in secrecy and just being associated with a convicted former official can result in prosecution.

Ex-Interpol President Meng’s old boss was Zhou Yongkang, a leading rival to Xi, who became the highest-ranking official to be entangled in corruption charges.

Yet what many consider to be a “flawed” judicial process has been defended by China’s state-owned media.

Global Times, which is run by the voice piece of the Communist Party, the People’s Daily, said in an editorial:

“There is wide speculation that he [Meng was] under investigation. But the Western media deliberately used such words as ‘disappearing’ and ‘missing’ to attack China’s political system. They are still using these words even after the official statement was released.

“Meng, as a senior official of China’s Ministry of Public Security, is subject to the supervision of the National Supervisory Commission. It’s in full compliance with the law for the commission to investigate his suspected serious violations of the law. His position at Interpol is not a shield to evade Chinese law.

“Regrettably, Western opinion rarely applauds China’s righteous anti-corruption campaign. Rather it rants and raves against it or even viciously misinterprets it.

“[But] the investigation of Meng by China’s National Supervisory Commission strictly adheres to the Supervision Law adopted by the country’s national legislature earlier this year.”

Chinese lawyers

And that is the problem, not the answer.

Western and Chinese lawyers have criticized the NSC and the Excalibur blade of the Supervision Law for failing to allow suspects to have legal representation during an investigation.

Many languish in dentation centers with little recourse.

“Individuals under supervision are not entitled to a lawyer or other criminal procedural protections that help prevent abuse during an investigation,” Horsley, a visiting lecturer in law at Yale, pointed out. “Nor does it appear that suspects and their families can ensure the Supervision Law’s own procedural requirements are enforced against the commissions and their personnel.”

To make matters worse, a tightly-controlled media fails to shed light on a practice which is open to abuse.

“Once the National Supervisory Commission launches an investigation, legal counsel will not be allowed,” Qin Qianhong, a professor of law at Wuhan University, said.

“This means that suspects are not only denied access to a lawyer during the liuzhi [early] phase but throughout the whole operational process where the Supervisory Commission is involved,” Qin added.

Fan and Meng could probably testify to that but not in the court of enforcer Yang.

Read: Behind the face of China’s new anti-corruption boss