December 30, 2013 / 2:30 AM / 6 years ago

Former aide to retired Chinese security chief probed for graft

BEIJING (Reuters) - A former aide to retired Chinese security tsar Zhou Yongkang has been placed under investigation for corruption, the government said, the latest move targeting people close to Zhou who is himself subject to a graft probe.

The ruling Communist Party’s anti-corruption watchdog said on Sunday that Li Chongxi, head of an advisory body to the legislature in the southwestern province of Sichuan, was being investigated for suspected serious breaches of party discipline and the law, the usual euphemism for graft.

It provided no other details and it was not possible to reach Li for comment.

President Xi Jinping has launched a sweeping crackdown on corruption since taking power, warning corruption is a threat to the ruling Communist Party’s very survival, and vowing to pursue powerful “tigers” as well as lowly “flies”.

More than 500 lawmakers in Hengyang city in the poor, landlocked southern province of Hunan resigned after being implicated in a bribery scandal, state media said on Saturday.

Zhou, who sources have told Reuters has been put under virtual house arrest, was party boss of Sichuan from 1999-2002, and it became one of his powerbases.

During Zhou’s tenure in Sichuan, Li was promoted to a deputy provincial party boss and head of the province’s anti-graft body, according to his official biography.

Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, citing an unidentified Sichuan official, said that Li was “particularly close” to Zhou, though added it was not clear whether he was specifically targeted because of his connection with Zhou.

Two other senior Sichuan officials are also being investigated, including Li Chuncheng, another former deputy Sichuan party chief.

Several of Zhou’s political allies have been taken into custody and questioned for corruption, including former Vice Minister of Public Security Li Dongsheng and Jiang Jiemin, the top regulator of state-owned enterprises for just five months until September.

Li Dongsheng held a rank equivalent to a cabinet minister, and state media says he is the first member of the Political and Legal Affairs Committee, the powerful domestic security body which Zhou used to head, to be investigated for graft.

It is unclear if the government will actually put Zhou on trial and risk the possibility that embarrassing revelations about China’s elite become public knowledge, potentially undermining confidence in the party.

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 led by Mao’s widow at the end of the Cultural Revolution.

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 jailed.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Michael Perry

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