It took enormous courage in 2012 for a Chinese reporter to go into print to expose one of the Chinese Communist Party's most senior officials for taking bribes and building a fortune by abusing his public office. Reporter Luo Changping did just that. As a result, Liu Tienan, the former deputy head of the National Reform and Development Commission, pleaded guilty in a trial in the northern province of Hebei on September 24.
According to documents released by the court, Liu Tienan was accused of accepting about $5.8 million in bribes from five companies between 2002 and 2012. Liu Tienan also received a Porsche and a Beijing villa. Transcripts from the one-day trial show the 59-year-old tearfully confessed to the crimes. A verdict is expected to come at a later date. He faces 10 years to life.
Liu Tienan's difficulties all started when reporter Luo Changping first wrote an article in Caijing, a widely read business magazine in December 2012, where he noted that a top official was involved in accepting bribes from major companies. He did not name the official in the magazine. But, the reporter then followed up on his own blog on China's weibo online service with details about the corruption that involved Liu Tienan as well as members of his family.
These reports came before China's President Xi Jinping launched his major campaign against corruption, which has seen the arrest of hundreds of Communist Party senior officials over the last 18 months. Today's trial of Liu Tienan is one of the first involving a top official triggered from an investigation by a journalist.
The reporting by Luo Cangping took place at a time when he could well have been arrested and imprisoned. His work was recognized last year when he received the prestigious annual Integrity Award from Transparency International, the global anti-corruption organization.
While Luo set a precedent, it remains dangerous for journalists in China to investigate Communist Party officials.
Risks of arrest remain high. Media censorship remains pervasive. In a conversation that I had last year with Luo, he argued that the concern that President Xi has about Communist Party discipline and public respect for the party is the driving force behind a long-term anti-corruption campaign.
Luo said that, as a result, he believed it will gradually become easier for journalists to do the sort of work that he has pursued, which can lead to bringing even top officials to justice.
The pace of anti-corruption action is certainly accelerating as more senior officials are arrested and investigated. Importantly, Xi is not even sparing the most senior public figures in China. This was signaled when Zhou Yongkang was placed under investigation for corruption. Zhou is the first former member of the top level Politburo to be arrested in China in many decades. For five years until he retired in 2012, he was the nation's chief of security, directing the police and the intelligence services. He had enormous power over large parts of industry, notably in the energy sector.
This blog post is part of the Masterminds series produced by The Huffington Post in partnership with NBC's The Blacklist. To see all the other posts in the series, click here.