Former Chinese security chief Zhou Yongkang, once a member of the ruling Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee, has been sentenced to life in prison at a secret trial, according to state media.

Zhou, 72, is the highest-ranking former official to be investigated for corruption and the biggest target to fall so far in President Xi Jinping's ongoing anti-corruption campaign. 

Zhou admitted on Thursday to charges of "bribery, abuse of power and leaking state secrets," at a secret trial in the northern city of Tianjin, the official Xinhua news agency said.


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The former security chief wielded vast power as head of the police and courts until his retirement in 2012.

Al Jazeera's Adrian Brown, reporting from outside Zhou's vast but now empty family compound in Xi Qiantou, Eastern China, described Zhou as "once arguably one of the most powerful men in China".

"Until three years ago, he was master of China's secrets, head of the country's security apparatus," he said.

"Even a year ago, it would have been impossible for a foreign journalist to stand outside the home of a man who was once one of the most feared and powerful politicians in the land." 

Zhou "admitted guilt and expressed regret," Xinhua said, adding that he would not appeal and that the court ruled to also confiscate his personal property.

The court was cited by Xinhua as saying that Zhou and a number of associates received more than 2.1bn yuan ($338m) in profits from various illegal business activities.

Zhou himself was convicted of taking bribes of about 130 million yuan, Xinhua said.

Anti-corruption drive

China's President Xi Jinping has vowed to bring down high-ranking officials in a campaign against endemic corruption, with a number of former senior officials placed under investigation since he came to power in 2012.

However, critics say that lack of systemic reforms mean the drive is little more than an excuse for political infighting.

After months of rumours, the party announced in July that Zhou was being investigated, before he was expelled and arrested last December.


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 China's courts are tightly controlled by the Communist Party and have a near-perfect conviction rate, meaning Zhou was virtually certain to be found guilty.

Xinhua added that the trial was "not open," because some of the facts of Zhou's crimes involved state secrets". The hearing's date was not announced in advance.

The length of the trial was not given by Xinhua which said it included video testimony from Zhou's wife and son.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies