BEIJING–A longtime aide to Chinese political heavyweight Zhou Yongkang has been sacked from his post and expelled from the ruling Communist Party for corruption, a party body said Wednesday. The move is the latest sign that authorities are targeting Zhou, the former domestic security chief who amassed huge power before his retirement from the party’s all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee in late 2012. His former aide Guo Yongxiang committed “serious violations of discipline and the law” the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) said in a statement on its website. Guo is a former vice governor of the southwestern province of Sichuan, where Zhou was party chief from 1999 to 2002. He also worked for 26 years in the oil industry, another power base of Zhou’s, as well as in China’s land resources ministry, which Zhou headed in the late 1990s. The investigation found that Guo had “exacted profits for others with his power, and taken a great amount of bribes and gifts himself or through the hands of his son,” the CCDI said, adding he was also guilty of “moral corruption” and had been under investigation since June. Guo was dismissed from his post as chairman of Sichuan’s federation of literary and art circles, and will face a criminal trial, it added. Rumors have swirled for months that Zhou himself is being investigated for graft, although his name was not mentioned in reports on Guo’s expulsion in state-run media Wednesday. Journalists were barred from raising questions about Zhou at Premier Li Keqiang’s annual news conference last month. But a steady stream of reports have trickled out that Zhou’s associates and family members are under investigation or have been sacked. In January a former close colleague, Li Chongxi, was dismissed from his position. Last month the Beijing News said Zhou’s brother Zhou Yuanqing was detained by “discipline investigators from Beijing.”
The respected financial magazine Caijing reported this week on alleged business dealings between a “mafia-style” boss, mining tycoon Liu Han, and Zhou’s son, Zhou Bin, who is believed to be in detention. If the investigation into the elder Zhou is confirmed, it would mark the first time in decades that such a high-ranking figure has been targeted in a formal inquiry, a move that would send shockwaves through China’s political elite. Members of the Politburo Standing Committee have generally been regarded as untouchable even after retirement. China’s Communist Party authorities have been waging a much-publicized anti-graft campaign in the year since President Xi Jinping came to power. But critics say no systemic reforms have been introduced to increase transparency to help battle endemic graft. They also contend that Xi’s targeting of Zhou is a move to sideline a political opponent rather than fight corruption.
Zhou is a former patron of Bo Xilai, the onetime openly ambitious political star who maintained a populist approach until his stunning fall from grace, which culminated in his conviction for multiple offences last year.