(Correct to "without prior approval" in 4th paragraph)
By Benjamin Kang Lim and Ben Blanchard
BEIJING Dec 11 China has put Zhou Yongkang, one
of the most powerful politicians of the last decade, under
virtual house arrest while the ruling Communist Party
investigates accusations of corruption against him, several
sources said on Wednesday.
Zhou is the most senior official to be ensnared in a graft
scandal since the Communists came to power in 1949. He was the
domestic security tsar and a member of the party's Politburo
Standing Committee - the pinnacle of power in the country - when
he retired last year.
Chinese President Xi Jinping ordered a special task force
formed in late November or early December to look into several
accusations brought against Zhou by political rivals, sources
with ties to the leadership told Reuters, requesting anonymity
to avoid repercussions for discussing secretive elite politics.
"Zhou Yongkang's freedom has been restricted. His movements
have been monitored," one source said, adding that he cannot
leave his Beijing home or receive guests without prior approval.
Zhou is being investigated for violating party discipline,
official jargon for corruption, the sources said. They did not
say what the specific allegations were.
Xi was installed as head of the party just over a year ago,
and as president in March, and the investigation illustrates his
growing power and confidence that he can manage any rift that
In ordering the investigation, Xi has broken with an
unwritten understanding that members of the Standing Committee
will not be investigated after retirement.
But Xi has yet to decide whether Zhou would be publicly
prosecuted, pending completion of the internal probe, the
sources said. Xi has declared war on corruption, vowing to go
after powerful "tigers" like Zhou as well as lowly "flies".
"Xi has pulled out all the tiger's teeth," a second source
said, referring to the downfall of Zhou's men, including Jiang
Jiemin, who was the top regulator of state-owned enterprises for
just five months until September when state media said he was
put under investigation for "serious discipline violations".
Jiang was previously chairman of state-owned China National
Petroleum Corp (CNPC) - Zhou Yongkang's power base - as well as
one of its subsidiaries, oil-and-gas behemoth PetroChina
. Zhou served as CNPC's general manager
from 1996-1998, having risen through the ranks.
"Zhou Yongkang is a toothless tiger and tantamount to a dead
tiger. The question is: will Xi skin the tiger?" the source
said, referring to a trial.
Political analysts say such an indictment and a trial would
instill fear in other retired leaders and the party's 80 million
members, worsening infighting among rival political factions.
Jonathan Fenby, director of China research at analyst group
Trusted Sources, said any form of public trial of Zhou would be
"potential for embarrassment ... given his long tenure at the
The Chinese government has neither confirmed nor denied
Chinese-language media reports in Hong Kong, Taiwan and the
United States that Zhou has been arrested on charges of
corruption and other crimes.
Zhou and his family could not be reached for comment. It is
not clear if they have lawyers.
The cabinet spokesman's office, which doubles as the party's
public affairs office, did not respond to a request for comment.
LINKED TO BO XILAI
Zhou was a patron of the once high-flying politician Bo
Xilai, who was jailed for life in September for corruption and
abuse of power - the worst political scandal since the 1976
downfall of the Gang of Four at the end of the Cultural
"Xi Jinping and (Premier) Li Keqiang hate Zhou Yongkang as
he was the only standing committee member who opposed ousting Bo
Xilai. They are gunning for Zhou," said a source who has ties to
Bo's career was stopped short last year by the attempted
defection of his estranged police chief who implicated Bo's wife
in the murder of a British businessman over a business dispute.
Bo's wife and his former police chief have been convicted and
"Zhou's men have been sidelined," another source said.
"The Central Commission of Political Science and Law has
been cleansed of Zhou's men," the source said, referring to the
powerful party body once headed by Zhou that oversees the police
force, the civilian intelligence apparatus, judges, prosecutors
and paramilitary police.
The movements of Zhou's eldest son, Zhou Bin, have also been
restricted while he helps with the corruption investigation that
has implicated Jiang, the regulator of state-owned enterprises.
The elder Zhou retired as domestic security tsar and from
the standing committee during a sweeping leadership reshuffle
last year. During his five-year watch, government spending on
domestic security exceeded the defence budget.
He was last seen at an alumni celebration at the China
University of Petroleum on Oct. 1.
He was also among party leaders who offered condolences or
sent flowers to the family of a respected educator who died last
month, state media reported on Nov. 26.
Hong Kong's South China Morning Post newspaper reported in
late August that the leadership had agreed to open a corruption
investigation into Zhou.
But sources with ties to the leadership told Reuters at the
time that Zhou was merely helping authorities with the
investigation into state energy companies and, contrary to media
reports, was not the target then.
That changed after Xi ruled that no one was above the law.
Zhao Hongzhu, one of the party's top anti-corruption
officials, declared in October that anyone who violated party
discipline or broke the law would be punished "regardless of who
it involved, how much power he has or how high his position is".
(Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)