December 20, 2013 / 4:37 PM / in 4 years

China probes top official in powerful security ministry

BEIJING (Reuters) - China has begun an investigation into a senior official at the powerful public security ministry, the government announced on Friday, as speculation swirls about the fate of the country’s former domestic security tsar.

Then congress spokesman Li Dongsheng answers a question during a news conference on the eve of the 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in Beijing in this October 14, 2007 file photo. REUTERS/Claro Cortes IV/Files

The ruling Communist Party’s anti-graft watchdog said in a brief statement that Deputy Public Security Minister Li Dongsheng is under investigation for “suspected serious law and discipline violations”, which normally refers to corruption.

No further details were given about the probe into Li, who is also deputy head of a central government group responsible for handling what Beijing terms “evil cults” like the banned spiritual group Falun Gong.

It was not possible to reach Li for comment.

Li joined the Public Security Ministry in 2009, having previously served as a deputy propaganda minister, and helped oversee security for the 2010 Asian Games in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, according to state media.

Of the Public Security Ministry’s nine deputy ministers, listed on its website in order of importance, Li is ranked second. His name was still on the list as of late Friday evening.

The news comes as China’s retired domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang, one of the most powerful politicians of the last decade, has been placed under virtual house arrest while the party investigates accusations of corruption against him, sources told Reuters earlier this month.

Overseas Chinese media in Taiwan, Hong Kong and the United States have carried lurid reports about the crimes Zhou is suspected of, but Beijing has said nothing about his fate and it has not been possible to reach him for comment either.

TIGERS AND FLIES

The Central Commission for Discipline and Inspection - the party’s anti-graft watchdog - said in November it would target all senior officials, as part of reforms to deepen its war on corruption.

President Xi Jinping has pursued an aggressive anti-corruption drive since coming to power, vowing to pursue high-flying “tigers” as well as lowly “flies”.

Zhou is the most senior official to be ensnared in a graft scandal since the Communists came to power in 1949. He was in charge of domestic security and a member of the party’s Politburo Standing Committee - the pinnacle of power in the country - when he retired last year.

Zhou is also being investigated for violating party discipline, the sources said. They did not say what the specific allegations were.

In ordering the investigation, Xi has broken with an unwritten understanding that members of the Standing Committee will not be investigated after retirement.

Xi has gone after several 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”.

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 Revolution.

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 defense budget.

He was last seen at an alumni celebration at the China University of Petroleum on October 1.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Mark Trevelyan

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