By Ian Mader and Didi Tang ,AP
BEIJING – Chinese authorities arrested the once-feared ex-security chief Zhou Yongkang and launched a criminal investigation Saturday on charges ranging from adultery and bribery to leaking state secrets, after expelling him from the Communist Party overnight.
The developments, announced shortly after midnight, pave the way for a trial of the most senior figure so far to be ensnared in President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption crackdown and appear to seal the downfall of a formerly powerful politician once considered a potent rival for Xi.
The square-jawed, granite-faced Zhou, 72, is the highest-level official to be prosecuted since the 1981 treason trial of Mao Zedong’s wife and other members of the ��Gang of Four�� who persecuted political opponents during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution.
Although the case against Zhou has been touted by state media as another example of the party’s determination to fight corruption regardless of one’s rank, some analysts say it is part of factional politics in the ruling party’s uppermost echelon.
��The fundamental issue remains the power struggle,�� Beijing-based historian and independent political observer Zhang Lifan said.
The announcement past midnight on a weekend is a sign that the party leadership wants to downplay its impact, Zhang said. An allegation that Zhou leaked state secrets may give authorities a reason to close the trial and keep dirty politics under the wraps, he added.
Li Cheng, director of the John L. Thornton China Center at Washington-based think tank Brookings, said the prosecution against Zhou was a genuine effort by Beijing to root out corruption to rebuild the party’s image.
Zhou had been under the party’s internal investigation for ��severe disciplinary violations�� �X a phrase is usually used to describe corruption �X since last December, a year after he retired as a Standing Committee member of the party’s Politburo. Investigations were made public in July.
��He abused his power to help relatives, mistresses and friends make huge profits from operating businesses, resulting in serious losses of state-owned assets,�� the official Xinhua News Agency said.
The party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection said in a statement posted online that the decision to expel Zhou was made Friday at a meeting of the 25-member Politburo. Shortly after the expulsion was made public early Saturday, prosecutors announced Zhou’s formal arrest and opened a criminal case against him, the party said.