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How a Chinese journalist took on a corrupt official

By Sophie Brown, for CNN
November 13, 2013 -- Updated 0237 GMT (1037 HKT)
Award-winning journalist Luo Changping says China has a shortage of investigative journalists.
Award-winning journalist Luo Changping says China has a shortage of investigative journalists.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Chinese journalist Luo Changping exposed illegal financial dealings by top official
  • A risky move in a country where state-run media is subject to intense censorship
  • He has received international recognition for his work from Transparency International
  • He says China needs more investigative journalists

(CNN) -- Over the past decade, Luo Changping has built a reputation as one of China's most respected journalists.

The 33 year old has exposed alleged financial wrongdoing by more than 100 senior government officials during that time.

"We know the smog is terrible in Beijing now but worse than the real smog is the political smog," he says.

"Chinese tax-payers have no idea where their money goes."

On China: Tigers and flies

Luo's most high-profile scoop came last December when, in a series of articles, he accused a powerful official at China's top economic planning body of illegal financial dealings.

The stories ultimately resulted in the official's dismissal from office.

Luo published the allegations on his own microblog, under his real name. It was a risky move in a country where both independent bloggers and state-run media are subject to intense censorship.

Beijing's corruption crackdown

On Friday, he received international recognition for his work from anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International, which has honored Luo with an Integrity Award.

"Luo's success was a rare victory in the struggle for transparency in China," the organization said.

"His actions have demonstrated the important role for investigative journalism and social media in the fight against corruption."

Modest man

Not a lot of media wanted to touch the story
Luo Changping

A deputy managing editor for the financial magazine Caijing, Luo is modest and says he got lucky with his investigation of a key official in China's top economic planning body.

"I wouldn't even be able to duplicate it again today, because there were so many coincidences," he told CNN.

He says he spent a year painstakingly collecting evidence.

"At the beginning it was very difficult," Luo said.

"Not a lot of media wanted to touch the story. Also, a lot of officials have their own connections within the government, and they sometimes can be very powerful."

So Luo acted alone.

He named the official accused of corruption as Liu Tienan, who was then a director of the National Energy Agency and deputy head of China's National Development and Reform Commission, a body that sets China's economic agenda.

At first, he wasn't afraid. "Many (journalists in China) are worried about their safety, that's understandable. But for me, I didn't think the danger was fatal. Reporters in China won't be killed, but they sometimes do suffer from bigger threats."

But Luo said he became worried when his reporting attracted the attention of the official Liu, who, Luo says, started a search into his family background.

"I'm not afraid of myself being in danger, but I am concerned about my family."

We are in shortage of people who are willing and passionate about investigative pieces.
Luo Changping

Opinion: In China, 'everyone is guilty of corruption'

When Luo's investigation became public, Liu denied the charges and threatened to sue for libel.

The story spread across social media but there was no reaction from the government for months.

However, in May, Liu was officially dismissed over what authorities said was his suspected involvement in "serious disciplinary violations." Liu was also expelled from the Communist Party. An investigation is still ongoing.

CNN has been unable to reach Liu for comment.

Luo had an early role model in his father, whose honest character was well-known in his local community and in local politics in the province of Hunan, Luo told Transparency International.

"Tell the truth," his father instructed. "Don't do evil," was his mother's advice. He organized a school newspaper and was in charge of the school radio station.

Corruption is still the main focus of Luo's reporting, and he hopes others will be inspired to take up the cause.

"We are in shortage of people who are willing and passionate about investigative pieces. I hope we can have more people get into this field," he said

With reporting by CNN's Beijing bureau

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