CHINA - Even though the men around him have been falling, it is still unclear whether the axe will eventually fall on former security czar Zhou Yongkang himself.
The latest among his proteges to face the music is Mr Jiang Jiemin, head of the important State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission that controls key state-owned firms. Mr Jiang, former chairman of China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), is under investigation for "serious discipline violations", a government statement said on Sunday. The probe will focus on the oil giant, state media said on Monday.
Last week, four senior CNPC executives, believed to be Mr Zhou's proteges, came under probe for alleged wrongdoing. They are Mr Wang Yongchun and Mr Li Hualin, both deputy general managers of CNPC, and Mr Ren Xinquan and Mr Wang Daofu of PetroChina, a CNPC subsidiary.
Fuelling talk that the noose is tightening on Mr Zhou, once the ninth most powerful man in China, was a report in Hong Kong's South China Morning Post last week that the top Chinese leadership had agreed to a probe on him for economic crimes.
But there is no official word yet that this will happen, although his links to the now disgraced former Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai and their shenanigans together make him a likely candidate.
Before Mr Zhou stepped down last November, he was a member of the elite Politburo Standing Committee (PSC). He also headed the Politics and Law Commission (PLC) of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
This position gave him control of what in China is called the "second military", comprising the regular police force and the military police. He also had control over the ministries of justice, public security and national security, as well as the country's prosecutorial and judicial apparatus. These are collectively known as the tools of proletariat dictatorship in CCP jargon. For one who controls a second military as well as the tools of dictatorship, his absolute loyalty to the party should be undoubted.
Yet Mr Zhou was heavily implicated in an alleged coup attempt said to be masterminded by Bo to unseat Chinese President Xi Jinping by next year.