IN A new twist to the long-rumoured graft probe against retired Chinese security czar Zhou Yongkang, President Xi Jinping is reported to have set up a special unit to investigate the former ninth-ranked leader.
But observers The Straits Times spoke to cast doubt on the South China Morning Post report, saying it was unlikely to be true.
The unit is headed by a senior policeman and deputy minister of public security, and bypasses the Communist Party's internal disciplinary apparatus, said the Hong Kong daily on Monday.
The unit's head, Beijing police chief Fu Zhenghua, will report directly to Communist general-secretary Xi Jinping, it added.
"The arrangement is unusual and reflects not only the sensitivity of Zhou's case but also Xi's personal interest in it," said the Post, whose website was temporarily blocked from mainland Net users yesterday afternoon.
News of the probe was briefly posted on Twitter by state broadcaster China Central TV's English news unit yesterday - only to be deleted an hour or so later.
Observers doubt that a special unit has been set up to investigate Mr Zhou, bypassing the party's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.
"I don't think the police will move without going through the proper party organs," said Professor Joseph Cheng of the City University of Hong Kong.
Anti-corruption expert Ren Jianming of Tsinghua University also believed that "the possibility is not big".
Even if the news is true, some wonder how independent the police unit will be given that Mr Zhou used to run China's vast domestic security forces, including the courts, paramilitary and police until retirement last November. This also means Mr Fu used to be Mr Zhou's subordinate.
In any case, the jury is still out on whether the top leadership will take action against Mr Zhou, a former member of the apex Politburo Standing Committee (PSC), say analysts. The unspoken agreement is for PSC members to be immune from criminal prosecution.