China steps up investigation into former security chief

Rumours that probe is being expanded to include death of Zhou Yongkang’s wife

Former Chinese security chief Zhou Yongkang, the most senior target yet of President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption crackdown. Photograph: Feng Li/Getty Images

Former Chinese security chief Zhou Yongkang, the most senior target yet of President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption crackdown. Photograph: Feng Li/Getty Images

 

The investigation into former security czar and member of the Politburo’s all-powerful Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, makes him the most senior victim yet of president Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption crackdown.

Rumours are circulating that the probe may be widened to include the death of his ex-wife Wang Shuhua, who was killed in a road accident in 2000, shortly after she had split from her husband.

Reuters cited a source this week with direct knowledge of the probe saying investigators were looking for evidence of foul play involving Mr Zhou (71) in the crash. Mr Xi has waged a campaign against corruption, which some say is focused on particular rival factions within the party, since he assumed control of the main offices of the party in late 2012.

No public charges

The corruption probe is stepping up a gear, probably ahead of the Communist Party’s fourth plenary session in October, which is expected to discuss the progress made on the effort to squeeze graft, long seen as a threat to single-party rule in China.

There is a big question mark over whether the party is prepared to have potentially destabilising details about faction fights and elite power struggles aired at such a high-profile meeting.

China’s top judge, Zhou Qiang, who is president of the Supreme People’s Court, said last month the investigation into Mr Zhou showed no one was above the law.

“Leading cadres, irrespective of position or party standing and tenure, will be subject to party discipline constraints and must receive education and supervision of party organisations,” he said.

Criminal charges

Bo Xilai

The rumours surrounding Mr Zhou tend to focus on him allegedly using cars to achieve his ends, almost like a developing theme. When the son of Ling Jihua, a senior party official and ally of former president Hu Jintao, was killed in a car crash while driving a Ferrari, there were whispers Mr Zhou was involved.*

And rumours of an attempted coup shortly before Mr Xi took over as president focused on Mr Zhou because one of the speculated stories said Mr Xi’s convoy had been surrounded by cars from a rival faction.

It is also said that Dai Haibo, vice deputy of the Shanghai Free Trade Zone, is under investigation, which means another high-profile cadre falling foul of the widespread crackdown.

*This article was amended on September 16th 2014