The scandal surrounding Bo Xilai refocused on political intrigue yesterday, after reports emerged alleging the disgraced former Communist Party chief of Chongqing had been involved in bugging the phone calls of China's President, Hu Jintao.
Mr Bo, whose political ambitions recently unravelled after the mysterious death of British businessman Neil Heywood, allegedly oversaw a wire-tapping network across the sprawling municipality of Chongqing in southwest China, which began during his campaign against organised crime in the region.
Suspicion was reportedly aroused when devices designed to detect wire-taps found a call to Mr Hu, placed by a senior anti-corruption official in Chongqing in August 2011, was being monitored. "If Bo really initiated this wiretapping of top leaders it means he was building an intelligence apparatus by himself and it is definitely unacceptable from the viewpoint of any top leaders," Ho-fung Hung, associate professor of sociology at Johns Hopkins University, told The Independent.
It is believed "operatives were caught intercepting a conversation between the office of Mr Hu and Liu Guanglei, a top party law-and-order official whom Mr Wang had replaced as police chief" last year, claims the New York Times, which cited "nearly a dozen people with party ties". It is thought the incident sparked mistrust in Wang Lijun, Mr Bo's police chief and ally, whose flight from Chong-qing to the US consulate in Chengdu was the catalyst that began the Bo scandal.
During his time in the US consulate, Mr Wang reportedly revealed details about the death of Mr Heywood, an associate of Mr Bo and his wife, Gu Kailai. The Chinese government obtained that information and now strongly suspects Ms Gu of being involved in Mr Heywood's death last November. Mr Bo is being investigated for "serious violations of discipline", but wire-tapping has not been mentioned officially as a line of enquiry.
A conversation between Mr Hu and China's Minister of Supervision, Ma Wen, was also said to have been monitored. International Chinese websites have reported that Vice President Xi Jinping, who is expected to take over as supreme leader in autumn, was also bugged during a visit to Chongqing.
Surveillance is a fact of life in China – the Internet, for example, is tightly monitored. But turning the listening equipment on the leadership itself, at the highest political levels, will have been read by the ruling elite of the Politburo as a direct challenge to central authorities.
In recent weeks, online rumours speculated China's internal security chief, Zhou Yongkang, reportedly an ally of Mr Bo, directed the surveillance of members of the powerful Politburo.