As part of the Chinese government’s ongoing initiatives to strengthen anti-corruption measures, the PRC Supreme People’s Procuratorate amended its Rules of the People’s Procuratorates on Whistleblowing Work (SPP Rules) on October 27, 2014. It is noteworthy that the recent amendments were released immediately after the conclusion of the fourth plenary session of the eighteenth Communist Party of China, which among other things urged the administration to focus on advancing the rule of law.
The stated aim of the SPP Rules is to “guarantee the smooth progress of whistleblowing work” within the jurisdiction of the people’s procuratorates. In addition to their authority to prosecute, people’s procuratorates are tasked with investigating public corruption and other duty-related crimes committed by Chinese officials. Therefore, the rules provide for the people’s procuratorates’ whistleblowing responsibilities in connection with their investigative activities, but they do not apply to government agencies that are responsible for investigating commercial bribery, or to any other Chinese authorities.
Statutory whistleblower protection in connection with criminal investigations has been provided for in China for almost 20 years. The SPP Rules were issued in 1996 and later amended in 2009; however, the recent amendments are the most comprehensive rules issued to date. The new SPP Rules contain detailed provisions governing how whistleblowers should be handled and their rights. They encourage whistleblowers to give their real names when making reports, although whistleblowers are permitted to remain anonymous if they prefer, and provide that reports can be made in person, or through letter, fax, or phone, or via the procuratorates’ official websites.
Additionally, the new SPP Rules adopt measures to promote whistleblowing and require procuratorates to inform whistleblowers of their rights, including:
- The right to apply for withdrawal of certain people’s procuratorates staff involved with a case
- The right to inquire with the relevant procuratorate if the whistleblower has not received a response within a period of time
- The right to appeal or apply for reconsideration if a procuratorate decides not to file a case
- The right to apply for protection if the whistleblower’s personal safety or property is threatened
- The right to receive rewards in connection with whistleblowing
The new SPP Rules specifically provide that whistleblower protection is one of the major whistleblowing-related tasks of the authority. People’s procuratorates are required to assess the risks facing real-name whistleblowers after they make reports, and when necessary, develop a protection program to prevent reprisals against them. Additionally, the rules provide that protective measures must be taken if it becomes necessary for a whistleblower to testify in criminal proceedings, including measures to keep a whistleblower’s personal information and identity secret and prohibit certain persons from having contact with a whistleblower and his/her close relatives. Special measures must be taken to protect the personal and residential security of a whistleblower.
The new SPP Rules also stipulate amounts that can be paid to whistleblowers as rewards, increasing previous incentives. Generally, whistleblowers can earn up to RMB200,000 (approximately US$33,000) for actionable information. Rewards as high as RMB500,000 (approximately US$82,000), however, may be paid if approved by a provincial people’s procuratorate in relation to significant contributions of information, and even higher amounts may be paid if approved by the Supreme People’s Procuratorate in relation to particularly significant contributions. If a whistleblower dies or becomes incapacitated, the successor or guardian of a whistleblower will receive any reward.
The SPP Rules form part of a raft of measures strengthening anti-corruption enforcement. The structure and authority of China’s Anti-Corruption Bureau, which was founded in 1995 under the supervision of the Supreme People’s Procuratorate (SPP), is also being reinforced. On November 2, 2014, a Deputy Chief Prosecutor from the SPP was quoted by the Chinese news agency, Xinhua, as confirming that central government authorities have agreed on a plan for a new anti-corruption agency proposed by the Chinese Communist Party committee of the SPP. It appears that the existing Anti-Corruption Bureau will be upgraded with the addition of a vice-minister, who will be a full-time member of the SPP procuratorial committee and who will concurrently occupy the position of head of the anti-corruption agency. News reports state that in response to the increasingly large and complex cases that China’s graft-busters are facing, the new agency will be better organized and better able to help the SPP handle major cases and break through institutional obstacles than the current authority.