Ex-China Politburo member facing graft probe in anti-corruption campaign: report

BEIJING, Reuters ,Reuters

BEIJING — China’s senior leadership has agreed to open a corruption investigation into Zhou Yongkang, one of China’s most powerful politicians of the past decade, stepping up its anti-graft campaign, the South China Morning Post reported on Friday. The move against Zhou — a retired member of the Politburo’s all-powerful Standing Committee — follows the five-day corruption trial of ousted politician Bo Xilai, who was widely considered a key Zhou ally.

The Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the report when contacted by Reuters. The State Council Information Office, the public relations arm of the government, did not respond immediately to faxed questions about the report. Zhou also could not be reached for comment on the report and Reuters could not independently verify it. He was one rank higher than Bo in the power structure and would be the first Politburo Standing Committee member — retired or sitting — to be investigated for economic crimes since the end of the Cultural Revolution nearly 40 years ago, the Hong Kong-based newspaper said. Citing sources familiar with the leadership’s thinking, it said the decision to investigate was made in view of rising anger inside the party at the scale of the corruption problem and the wealth that Zhou’s family has amassed. President Xi Jinping ordered officials in charge of the case to “get to the bottom of it,” the paper said. Most sources and political analysts have said they doubt Zhou is under investigation because it would risk opening a Pandora’s box that could lead to calls for probes into other retired Standing Committee members, including ex-premier Wen Jiabao and his wife and son. The New York Times reported last year that Wen’s family had accumulated at least US$2.7 billion in “hidden riches,” a story China labeled a smear. Earlier this month U.S.-based Chinese news site Duowei said Zhou was being investigated for graft. However, the report was later withdrawn.

Oil Connection Chinese authorities revealed this week a probe into China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), which Zhou joined as a senior manager in the early 1990s. Four top managers at the company have been named as being under investigation in recent days, including group deputy general manager Li Hualin, who once served as Zhou’s secretary.

The newspaper said it understood the new probe would centre on Zhou’s time as a party boss in Sichuan province and at CNPC. In particular, investigators would examine whether Zhou and his family benefited through oilfield and property deals facilitated by his son, Zhou Bin, and other allies, it said. Sources told the newspaper it was too early to say whether Zhou — who controlled legal and law enforcement affairs for 10 years from 2002 — would face public prosecution or an internal party probe.