Zhou, who was formally charged in April, was tried in the northern city of Tianjin on May 22, admitted his guilt and decided not to appeal against the verdict, state media said.
The verdict was read out on state television.
Zhou, 72, is the most senior Chinese official to be ensnared in a graft scandal since the party swept to power in 1949. The decision to try Zhou underscores President Xi Jinping’s pledge to fight corruption at the highest levels.
“I accept the prosecution’s accusations, and the basic facts are clear; I admit my guilt and am penitent,” Xinhua paraphrased Zhou as telling the court.
One source with the direct knowledge of the situation told Reuters that Zhou was guarded by soldiers rather than members of the police force he used to command.
“He was cooperative during interrogations,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “His attitude was good.”
In ordering the investigation into Zhou, Xi broke with an unwritten understanding that members of the Politburo Standing Committee would not come under such scrutiny after retirement.
Zhou’s alleged crimes took place over decades, including when he was deputy general manager of China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), party boss in southwestern Sichuan province, minister of public security and a member of the Politburo Standing Committee, according to the initial indictment.
The page-and-a-half statement published by the official Xinhua news agency gave brief but tantalizing details of the trial, though it did not elaborate on the nature of the state secrets he leaked.
Zhou handed over six secret documents from his office to a person named Cao Yongzheng, Xinhua said. Respected Chinese business magazine Caixin has previously identified Cao as a mystic.
As well as hearing testimony from his wife and son, CNPC’s former head Jiang Jiemin also testified. Jiang, a former close associate of Zhou, went on trial in April accused of corruption, but has yet to be sentenced.
State television showed a white-haired Zhou, who had not been seen in public since October 2013, admitting his guilt.
The government had previously said the trial would be open.
Zhou was a member of the Politburo Standing Committee – China’s apex of power – and held the post of security tsar until he retired in 2012.
Sources with ties to the Chinese leadership have previously told Reuters that Xi has been determined to bring down Zhou for allegedly plotting appointments to retain influence ahead of the 18th Party Congress in November 2012, when Xi took over the party.
The government’s corruption fight has extended to almost every corner of the country, including powerful state-owned companies which dominate sectors of the economy such as energy, banking and telecommunications.
Zhou joined the Politburo Standing Committee in 2007 while also heading the central Political and Legal Affairs Committee, a sprawling body that oversees law and order policy. The security apparatus he ran expanded during his watch and consumed a budget that exceeded the official figure for military spending. He quickly earned the enmity of Chinese dissidents.
Retired legislators and lawyers have said many of the previous abuses to the rule of law in China can be attributed to Zhou, who expanded his role into one of the most powerful and controversial fiefdoms in the one-party government. -Reuters