How China’s anti-corruption drive claimed its biggest scalp yet - and left the ruling elite fearful of the same fate

Former security tsar, Zhou Yongkang, is being investigated for suspected 'serious disciplinary violations'

beijing

Two influential former Chinese leaders gave their consent for President Xi Jinping to investigate the former domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang, sources said, in a sign that the corruption investigation will not open a rift in the ruling Communist Party.

Mr Xi would not have been able to investigate someone as powerful as Mr Zhou without the agreement of senior party members and other retired top officials, political analysts said. But less clear is whether the elite is starting to get jittery over Mr Xi’s expanding corruption crackdown, which is spreading fear throughout the party and the government.

Mr Xi’s predecessors Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin had approved the investigation into Mr Zhou, the most senior Chinese official to be ensnared in a graft scandal since the party swept to power in 1949, two sources with ties to the leadership said.

The party said in a brief statement on Tuesday that Mr Zhou was being investigated by the party’s anti-corruption watchdog for suspected “serious disciplinary violations”.

Mr Zhou, 71, was the security tsar within the Politburo Standing Committee – China’s apex of power – for five years until he retired in 2012. “Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping reached a consensus to deal with Zhou Yongkang for violating party discipline,” one source said.

Former top leaders in China usually wield a lot of influence behind the scenes. Both Jiang and Hu, as former Presidents and heads of the party, still have allies installed in office.

The party statement did not detail wrongdoing by Mr Zhou, but the sources said he had been accused of corruption involving family members and political allies as well as accepting bribes to promote officials. “Not all charges against Mr Zhou would be made public,” added the source, who requested anonymity to avoid repercussions for speaking without authorisation.

Mr Zhou could not be reached for comment. The party statement on Mr Zhou coincided with an announcement that its Central Committee would convene in October to “comprehensively study the advancing of the rule by law”.

Another source with leadership ties said Mr Xi was considering a proposal to let the Central Committee decide whether to press criminal charges against Mr Zhou after anti-corruption investigators detailed their case, as opposed to having the matter dealt with internally by the party. “This would be a first if Mr Xi decides to let the Central Committee vote whether to put Mr Zhou on trial,” the source said.

By breaking an unwritten rule that members of the Standing Committee would not come under scrutiny after retirement, Mr Xi could risk antagonising other party elders who fear that they and their families could be next, political analysts said.

Mr Xi’s campaign has already sown so much fear that many officials are doing anything to stay out of trouble – from dithering over approving major projects to seeking early retirement. Some top executives under investigation at state-owned enterprises have committed suicide.

About 30 senior officials at the provincial and ministerial level or above have been put under investigation for corruption since December 2012, state media has said. The People’s Daily newspaper, the party’s mouthpiece, said the crackdown was not about to end: “There will be no halt. This is only one step in a process. Going forward, whoever is corrupt will be punished.”

In early December, Mr Zhou was placed under virtual house arrest after Mr Xi ordered a special task force to look into corruption accusations against him. Two months later, authorities had seized assets worth at least 90bn yuan (£8.6bn) from family members and associates of Mr Zhou. More than 300 of Mr Zhou’s relatives, political allies and staff had been taken into custody or questioned, said sources who had been briefed on the investigation.

Sources with ties to the Chinese leadership have said Mr Xi wants to bring down Mr Zhou Yongkang for allegedly plotting appointments to retain influence before the 18th party congress in November 2012, when Mr Xi took over the party. Mr Zhou had nominated Bo Xilai to succeed him as domestic security chief and orchestrated Bo’s promotion to the Standing Committee, the sources have said. Bo later fell following accusations that his wife murdered British businessman Neil Heywood in 2011. Bo’s wife was convicted over the killing and Bo was jailed for corruption.

Mr Xi has made fighting graft a major theme of his administration and has promised to go after “tigers” as well as “flies”. 

But putting Mr Zhou on trial might risk embarrassing revelations about the party’s inner workings coming to light, said another source.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Support Workers - Mother's Help / Buddy Support Role

£8 - £11 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A gentleman with congenital achondropla...

Recruitment Genius: Training Officer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Training Officer is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Support Specialist - Document Management

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A leading provider of document ...

Recruitment Genius: Legal Secretary

£17000 - £17800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to work ...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent