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
Sport
Australia vs New Zealand live
cricket Follow over-by-over coverage as rivals New Zealand and Australia face off
News
Zayn has become the first member to leave One Direction. 'I have to do what feels right in my heart,' he said
peopleWe wince at anguish of fans, but his 1D departure shows the perils of fame in the social media age
Life and Style
Researchers found that just 10 one-minute swill-and-spit sessions are enough to soften tooth enamel and make teeth vulnerable to erosion
health
News
i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
The Regent Street Cinema’s projection room in the 1920s
film
News
Leah Devine is only the ninth female to have made the Young Magician of the Year final since the contest began more than 50 years
peopleMeet the 16-year-old who has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year
News
Jonathan Anderson was born in Northern Ireland but now based between London, where he presents a line named JW Anderson
peopleBritish designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing