China's former security chief Zhou Yongkang has been charged with bribery, abuse of power and disclosing state secrets, making him the most senior official being prosecuted in decades.

Zhou is the most prominent victim of President Xi Jinping's much-publicised anti-corruption drive, which has targeted high-level "tigers" as well as low-level "flies".

"The defendant Zhou Yongkang... took advantage of his posts to seek gains for others and illegally took huge property and assets from others, abused his power, causing huge losses to public property and the interests of the State and the people," said the indictment, posted online by prosecutors.

"The social impact is vile and the circumstances were extraordinarily severe," it said, adding that he also "intentionally leaked state secrets".

The document was filed with a court in the northern port of Tianjin, the Supreme People's Procuratorate added.

He had a background in the oil industry and accumulated vast power as he rose through the ranks to become a member of the Communist Party's elite Politburo Standing Committee, the most powerful body in China.

Anti-corruption drive

Days after his arrest, the Communist Party's flagship People's Daily newspaper branded Zhou a "traitor" and likened him to several past turncoats who were all executed.

The proceedings will be the most significant in China since the Gang of Four, who included Mao Zedong's widow Jiang Qing, were put on trial and blamed for the chaos of the Cultural Revolution.

Officials have promised that it will be open in accordance with Chinese law, but attendance at previous high-profile cases has been closely controlled.

Zhou's fall sent shockwaves through the ruling party. After months of rumours, party authorities announced last July they were investigating him, and he was expelled from the party and formally arrested in December.

Communist authorities have touted the anti-corruption drive as a root-and-branch reform of the party over an issue that causes deep and widespread public anger.

But critics note that China has failed to implement institutional safeguards against corruption, such as public asset disclosure, an independent judiciary, and free media, leaving the effort at risk of being used for political faction-fighting.

Several of Zhou's allies have also been brought down in the campaign, among them Jiang Jiemin, the former head of the body that regulates China's state-owned firms.

He is a former head of the China National Petroleum Corporation, a post previously held by Zhou, and the two are reportedly part of a Communist Party faction with roots in the oil industry, known as the "petroleum gang".

Source: AFP