Zhou Yongkang, the former head of China’s security apparatus, is being investigated for corruption, the New York Times reported, citing people with political ties to senior officials.
Allegations against Zhou emerged from investigations over the past year into accusations of abuse of power and graft by officials and oil company executives associated with him, the paper said.
Party leaders have promised to target both “tigers and flies,” or cadres up and down the power ladder, who are guilty of graft, as part of a crackdown on corruption that President Xi Jinping has said threatens the Communists’ six-decade hold on power.
Zhou, a former member of the Communist Party’s elite Politburo Standing Committee, was an ally of Bo Xilai before Bo’s ouster on corruption charges. Bo, the former Chongqing municipal party secretary who was mentioned as a possible candidate for the standing committee, was sentenced to life in prison in September on charges of bribery, corruption and abuse of power.
“Corruption is a pretext,” said Willy Wo-Lap Lam, an adjunct professor of history at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “The main issue is still factional struggle.”
Xi and other leaders agreed in early December to put Zhou under formal investigation, the New York Times said. Zhou’s son, Zhou Bin, and other family members have also been involved in the investigations, it said. It is not clear whether Zhou’s case will lead to a legal prosecution or criminal charges, the Times said.
China’s leaders have a longstanding internal agreement that Standing Committee members will not be publicly prosecuted, Lam said.
“If he appears in court it will be a big breakthrough for the anti-corruption campaign,” he said.
Zhou has been put under virtual house arrest while the corruption investigation continues, Reuters reported Dec. 11, citing unnamed sources. Xi ordered a special task force to look into accusations against Zhou brought by political rivals, it said, citing people with ties to the leadership.
Party leaders agreed to open a corruption investigation into Zhou during the August annual party meeting at the resort of Beidaihe in Hebei province, the South China Morning Post first reported Aug. 30, citing unidentified people with knowledge of the meeting.
The New York Times cited an official with a state broadcaster, a former province-level party corruption investigator, a lawyer and businesswoman with family connections to the party elite, and a businesswoman who is the granddaughter of a late leader.
Until November 2012, Zhou was one of the nine members of the Standing Committee and oversaw the internal security forces whose budget under his watch surpassed that of the military. In March 2012 he publicly voiced support for the policies of Bo, days before the Chongqing leader was removed from his post in a corruption scandal.
Bo was tried in August for bribery, corruption and abuse of power, receiving a life sentence the following month. Zhou’s position is one level higher: he oversaw the police and paramilitary forces with an annual budget of more than $100 billion as the top official for the “stability maintenance” program, ensuring the thousands of strikes, riots and other disturbances around China each year didn’t become organized challenges to Communist rule.
Zhou was born in 1942 and is from Wuxi, a city in eastern Jiangsu province. He joined the party in 1964 on the eve of the Cultural Revolution while studying at the Beijing Petroleum Institute, now called the China University of Petroleum.
It was there that Zhou made a public appearance on Oct. 1, China’s national day, meeting students and faculty and stating his support for Xi’s leadership, according to an account on the university’s website.
A month later, Zhou expressed condolences after the death of the former deputy chairman of the Zhejiang Chinese People’s Consultative Conference, the official Xinhua News Agency reported November 26.
Zhou began his career in the energy industry when he went to work in 1967 as an apprentice and a technician at the Daqing oilfield in the northeastern Heilongjiang province, taking successively higher posts in the industry until he served in the top job at CNPC from 1996 to 1998, according to his biography.
He subsequently served as minister of land and resources, Sichuan party secretary before joining the Politburo in 2002 as minister of public security.
— With assistance by Henry Sanderson