New master’s program molds top investigators to root out corruption

By Xuyang Jingjing Source:Global Times Published: 2013-7-18 19:28:01

Public prosecutors speak at a televised debate contest between prosecutors and lawyers in Zunyi, Guizhou Province on July 11. Photo: IC

Public prosecutors speak at a televised debate contest between prosecutors and lawyers in Zunyi, Guizhou Province on July 11. Photo: IC

Anti-corruption is arguably grabbing more headlines than any other subject at the moment, especially since the new generation of leaders vowed to crack down on both "tigers" and "flies."

Equally attention-grabbing and controversial is the attempt to produce a team of highly-skilled professionals to fight corruption, as the first batch of 24 students graduated this summer from a master's class in "anti-corruption."

For the last three years, these students have learned all about investigation of graft crimes at the Renmin University of China's Law School. Fifteen of the 25 graduates have now obtained positions inside procuratorates, which handle the investigation of corruption cases in China.

Despite doubts that this is all hype rather than a real solution to corruption, the purpose of the program is to help build a more professional anti-corruption team, said professor He Jiahong from Renmin University who initiated the program.

How it works

The three-year Juris Master's program has been conducted in cooperation between the university and the Supreme People's Procuratorate since 2010. Senior officials and prosecutors from anti-corruption departments are invited to teach and mentor the students on an individual basis.

People from different backgrounds can apply for the JM program at the university and pick the area they want to focus on at the beginning of each fall semester. The classes of 2014 and 2015 each have 18 students and are about evenly split between male and female.

He said the program looks for candidates with strong overall performances, especially logic and analytical skills.

But motivation is also a key factor. He recalled that he interviewed a student back in 2010 whose family had been involved in a lawsuit and lost. "He said that they lost the suit because they didn't know anybody within the procuratorate, and that he applied so they would gain such a connection," said He. Needless to say, the student didn't get in.

Students with backgrounds in economics, accounting, computer science and journalism, for example, have an advantage as some of their skills can come in handy when investigating corruption cases, said He. But the course is open to everyone - one of the students in the class of 2013 came in with a degree in veterinary sciences.

Students have to learn both the basics of law majors and take specific courses about investigation. There are many practical skills for them to pick up, such as gathering physical evidence, lifting fingerprints and interrogation skills, among others.

The school even bought a polygraph, or a lie detector, to teach students how it works. Last year they built a mock interrogation room for students to role play while the rest of the class observes behind a one-way mirror.

Officials and prosecutors have given exclusive four-hour seminars to talk about anti-corruption in practice. These talks are only open to the "anti-corruption major" students and the class is not allowed to discuss anything said during those seminars with outsiders.

During the last year of the program, students interned in different departments within the procuratorate system with some even participating in actual investigations.

Turning pro

Professor He has been advocating the need for more professionalism in anti-corruption investigations for a long time. He initiated this program as procuratorates, especially at the grass-roots level, lack professional investigators who can work effectively and efficiently.

He was temporarily assigned to work at the department of anti-malfeasance at the Supreme People's Procuratorate between 2006 and 2008.

But civil servants working on embezzlement or malfeasance cases often come from various backgrounds and rarely have relevant training. "They mostly learn on the job from the experienced investigators," said He. They are also constantly shuttled around between different departments.

The authorities have also become tuned in to the importance of professional investigators. During a training course in November 2011, officials from the top anti-corruption authority said they needed more specialists who are capable of both carrying out an investigation and making full use of modern technology.

As society progresses and crimes become more sophisticated, the way of investigating and fighting these crimes also needs to evolve. "The old, sometimes crude way of investigation or interrogation no longer works. We need a more civilized way and must adhere to the rule of law," said He.

The investigation of corruption cases is different from other types of criminal investigation as officers have to deal directly with suspects from higher social statuses who are usually highly intelligent and can hide their crimes through connections and manipulation, he added.

To become more professional also means that investigators should rely more on scientific methods, such as psychology and behavioral science. As anti-corruption investigations rely more heavily on confessions and testimonies than other crimes, interrogations are a key part of the skill set. "And as we change from the old 'harsh interrogation' style to 'soft interrogation,' it poses more challenges to the officers," said He.

While authorities admit that more talents are needed, anti-corruption investigations aren't a degree choice and few have special programs about them.

Aside from Renmin University, Chongqing-based Southwest University of Political Science & Law has been offering a related undergraduate program since 2004. About 60 students are enrolled in this program each year and about half of them eventually get into procuratorates, said Liu Zhenghong, Party secretary of the university's Criminal Investigation Law School.

The school also has close ties to procuratorate departments and regularly invites officials on the job to give lectures.

Not all graduates from such programs end up fighting corruption as they still have to take the civil servant exam to get into the procuratorates.

In Renmin University, 15 students from the class of 2013 got into procuratorates, and the rest went to work for other government agencies or companies in various capacities.

Solution to corruption?

Professor He and the students made an agreement from the very beginning, that the students should not give the teachers any presents or buy them dinner. If students and teachers dine out together, the teachers pay their share. The class also designed their own badge to inspire a sense of pride and responsibility in students.

He said that he bears no delusion that the dozens of students who emerge from the group will somehow sweep the country clean of corruption.

It is mostly the Chinese media who dubbed the program as an "anti-corruption master class" and played up the hype. But this goes to show that it certainly captured people's imagination and raised expectations at a time when corruption is rampant.

The Supreme People's Procuratorate announced in March that during the past five years they had concluded 138,000 corruption-related cases and punished 143,000 people.

In October, the Supreme People's Procuratorate is expected to deliver a report on anti-corruption to the top legislative body, which will be the first in 24 years.

Dozens of students each year are a drop in the ocean when it comes to fighting corruption, He admits, adding that a real solution requires structural changes.

He and many other scholars have proposed and called for the disclosure of officials' assets, but so far little progress has been made on this front.

Besides the talent problem, the organizational side of anti-corruption also needs help from its current confusing state.

Aside from the procuratorates, the other two forces involved in anti-corruption campaigns in China are the central discipline and supervision authorities, whose jurisdictions cover the Party and the administrative branch of government respectively.

The discipline and supervision authorities are usually considered the most important forces in fighting corruption. These departments also have more personnel than the anti-corruption officers in the procuratorate system.

"In fact the investigation of senior officials largely depends upon the discipline authorities; and officials above the vice-minister level need to be investigated by the CPC's Central Commission of Discipline Inspection," explained He.

After the Central Discipline Commission finishes the investigation, the cases are transferred to the procuratorate department which verifies the evidence and then prosecutes.

Within the procuratorate system, there are three departments involved in anti-corruption, including anti-embezzlement and bribery, anti-malfeasance and infringement, and prevention.

Professor He has suggested that these three functions be integrated into a single force to avoid repetition and inefficiency, a suggestion which he says the authorities are considering.

Xu Zuoquan, 25, is now in his final year at the master's program at Renmin University. A journalism major from the East China University of Politics and Law, he entered the law school at Renmin University in 2011. Xu chose this major as he wanted to study law, saw an opportunity to join a new program and knew of professor He's fame.

Although he didn't know much about the area when he started, Xu said that the more he learned, the more interested he became.

"I hope to contribute to the anti-corruption campaign considering how serious the situation is," said Xu. "I believe what we learn will prove useful and that we will contribute to the nationwide efforts to stamp out graft."

Posted in: In-Depth

blog comments powered by Disqus