Beijing: China’s ruling Communist Party has expelled one of its senior officials, Li Chuncheng, and authorised a criminal investigation into his corrupt behaviour, the latest major move in an anti-graft drive encircling the country’s former domestic security chief, Zhou Yongkang.
It comes nearly 18 months after Mr Li, then deputy party secretary of Sichuan province, became the first senior official detained in what has developed into China’s biggest anti-corruption probe and a flagship of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s efforts to strengthen his grip on the leadership.
Chinese authorities have to date said nothing regarding their investigation into Mr Zhou, one of China’s most formidable politicians in recent decades, which has broadened into the detention of his immediate relatives.
While dozens of his known associates have been arrested, internal party pressure has meant Mr Xi’s ultimate intentions over Mr Zhou – who would be the highest-ranking party official to ever be charged with corruption – remain unclear.
But the formal expulsion of Mr Li is seen as a significant step, given he was the first official Mr Xi put under investigation, soon after taking power in November 2012. Mr Li, who rose quickly through the ranks while Mr Zhou was Sichuan’s top official between 1999 and 2002, was removed from office within weeks of Mr Zhou’s official retirement in late 2012.
In a statement released late on Tuesday, China’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection said Mr Li, as well as his wife and daughter accepted “huge bribes”, that he was “corrupt and degenerate” and abused his power to indulge in “feudalistic superstitious activities” that created “massive losses to state finances”, without providing further detail.
Caixin, a Chinese financial magazine, reported this month that Mr Li spent tens of millions of yuan to hire a fengshui master to conduct rituals when moving his family’s ancestral tomb.
Mr Li also reportedly arranged a Taoist priest to “drive out demons” when an associate’s company was going through a difficult period.
Mr Xi’s anti-corruption campaign has focused on Sichuan province, where in addition to senior provincial leaders, leading business figures like Hanlong Group’s Liu Han have also been detained. It has also targeted another stronghold of Mr Zhou – China’s powerful state-owned oil sector.
Mr Zhou’s son Zhou Bin, his sister-in-law Zhou Lingying and his son’s mother-in-law, Zhan Minli, have company assets in their names worth at least $US160 million ($172.8 million), much of it based on ventures with a state-owned oil company that Mr Zhou once headed, The New York Times reported this month. Mr Zhou’s son and sister-in-law are among those understood to be under the party’s custody.
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