China ejects spy chief from group of advisers: Xinhua

BEIJING (Reuters) - China has dropped one of its espionage chiefs from a high-profile panel of advisers, official news agency Xinhua said on Wednesday, after the ruling Communist Party announced he was being investigated for corruption.

China's President Xi Jinping stands next to a flower arrangement depicting China's national flag during a ceremony at the National Pantheon in Caracas July 20, 2014. Xi is on a two-day official visit to Venezuela. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Ma Jian, a vice minister at the Ministry of State Security, is the most senior security official facing investigation since former domestic security czar Zhou Yongkang was ensnared in a graft scandal last July.

The investigation into Ma could lead to a shake-up in the powerful state security ministry, a KGB-like operation that spies on citizens and foreigners at home and abroad.

One of China’s most opaque bodies, it has no public website or spokesman.

The advisory panel, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) has revoked Ma’s membership eligibility, Xinhua said on its microblog, without giving details.

Last month, the party’s anti-graft watchdog said it was investigating Ma, signaling that the strongest corruption crackdown in decades has engulfed the powerful intelligence network.

It is unclear what triggered the investigation of Ma, who is said to have headed China’s counter-espionage programs.

Ma was director of the ministry’s “No.8 Bureau”, charged with counter-espionage surveillance of foreigners, chiefly diplomats, businessmen and reporters, a source with ties to the leadership had told Reuters.

He has since been replaced by Qiu Jin, a vice minister of state security.

The South China Morning Post newspaper, based in Hong Kong, said Ma was closely tied to Ling Jihua, the target of a graft investigation last year and one-time senior aide to former President Hu Jintao.

President Xi Jinping has vowed to target high-ranking “tigers” as well as lowly “flies” in his anti-corruption drive, and has pledged to step up the effort.

Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Clarence Fernandez