Communist Party leaders have approved a corruption investigation into former Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang, SCMP reports.
Zhou, who was a key ally of Bo Xilai before the latter’s downfall, will be the first member of the Politburo Standing Committee — retired or sitting — to be investigated for economic crimes since the Cultural Revolution.
Current and retired top leaders endorsed the decision earlier this month during the secretive annual party meeting at the resort of Beidaihe in Hebei province. According to sources familiar with the leadership’s thinking, President Xi Jinping and his administration are determined to use the case to galvanise the anti-graft campaign.
Sources said top leaders made the decision in view of the rising anger inside the party at the scale of the corruption problem and the vast fortune that Zhou’s family has amassed. Xi ordered officials in charge of the case to “get to the bottom of it”.
Convicting a former member of the Standing Committee would be a dramatic move, members of China’s ruling body are seen as largely untouchable even after they have retired (this was one of the reasons Bo was reportedly so keen to get onto the committee).
[Sources said] it was too early to say whether Zhou – who controlled legal and law enforcement affairs for 10 years from 2002 – would face public prosecution or just an internal party probe.
While admittedly an exciting step forwards for Xi Jinping’s much vaunted anti-corruption campaign, the investigation into Zhou may have far more to do with internal Party politics than genuine anti-graft zeal. Zhou had reportedly been angling to have Bo installed as his successor on the Standing Committee, leaving him exposed when the Chongqing Party Boss dramatically and spectacularly fell from grace.
Amassing a vast fortune during one’s time in power is hardly unheard of within the top ranks of the Communist Party. The New York Times revealed last year that Wen Jiabao’s family had amassed a fortune worth billions of dollars during his tenure as premier. Xi Jinping’s own family are hardly poor either.