China investigates former security chief for corruption

High-profile case sends out message no one is immune from scrutiny

Zhou Yongkang (centre) has been placed under investigation for suspected “serious disciplinary violation”. Photograph: Reuters

Zhou Yongkang (centre) has been placed under investigation for suspected “serious disciplinary violation”. Photograph: Reuters

Wed, Jul 30, 2014, 01:00

China has formally announced an investigation into the affairs of former domestic security czar Zhou Yongkang, in the highest-level corruption investigation since the Communist Party came to power more than six decades ago.

The decision to launch an investigation into Mr Zhou sends a message that no one is immune from the corruption investigation introduced by President Xi Jinping in late 2012, even the ruling elite.

Mr Zhou, a member of the standing committee until November 2012, was said to be an ally of former provincial leader Bo Xilai, who was jailed last year on corruption charges and whose wife was jailed for murder.

Mr Zhou has been placed under investigation for suspected “serious disciplinary violation”, the Xinhua news agency reported, using a euphemism commonly employed to describe corruption investigations. It confirms speculation that has circulated for months.

House arrest

Mr Zhou (71) and his family are believed to have been under house arrest since late last year as the Communist Party investigates his affairs.

Scores of his supporters have been picked up, especially those linked to his power base in the southwestern province of Sichuan and in the country’s petroleum industry, as well as in the security services.

Other high-profile members purged since the 1949 revolution that swept the party to power include former president Liu Shaoqi, who died in detention during the Cultural Revolution, and former general secretary Zhao Ziyang, who was held under house arrest for decades for his sympathetic approach to democracy demonstrators on Tiananmen Square in June 1989.

The current crackdown on corruption appears a departure in the way it has gone after such a senior figure as Mr Zhou, but it could also be characterised as a purge, asmany senior leaders have benefited from their positions but are not facing censure. President Xi’s own family has become wealthy during his ascent to power, although the president has been ring-fenced from direct links to his family’s billions.

Xinhua said the investigation would be conducted by the Communist Party’s central commission for discipline inspection, and that the decision had been made in accordance with the party’s constitution and regulations. The announcement came as the Communist Party’s decision-making politburo announced it will hold the fourth plenary session, a key meeting of top officials, in October.

Mr Zhou was born in 1942 and is from Wuxi, a city in eastern Jiangsu province. He joined the party in 1964 while studying at the Beijing Petroleum Institute, now called the China University of Petroleum. He ran the oil industry for decades and was head of the state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation in the 1990s.

In September last year Jiang Jiemin, former chairman of the corporation and a key ally of Mr Zhou, was purged as part of the investigation.

Mr Zhou’s son, Zhou Bin, has also reportedly been detained and is fighting bribery charges.