BEIJING - After a year of speculation, the Communist Party has formally launched disciplinary investigations against former security czar Zhou Yongkang, setting a precedent for other retired senior leaders who may now face the same fate.
Mr Zhou, who retired from the powerful Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) in 2012, is being probed for "serious disciplinary violation", the Xinhua news agency said yesterday. The term is typically a euphemism for corruption.
Analysts say the move against Mr Zhou, 71, shows that Chinese President Xi Jinping has truly consolidated his power. But they add that it is likely Mr Xi would stop at Mr Zhou - for now - so as not to disrupt party unity.
Mr Zhou's son Zhou Bin, 42, was arrested yesterday for alleged illegal business activities, local media reported.
Mr Zhou is the most senior Chinese politician to be ensnared in a formal corruption probe since the Communist Party swept to power in 1949, according to Reuters.
The move is likely to send shudders through China's political system as PSC members have long been regarded as untouchable even after retirement.
Xinhua said yesterday the decision was made in accordance with the party's Constitution, and the "discipline inspection authority's case investigation regulation".
But experts say the writing was on the wall when Mr Xi launched his anti-graft drive, vowing to take down both powerful "tigers" and lowly "flies", when he took power in November 2012. A month later, Sichuan deputy party boss Li Chuncheng was sacked, becoming the first protege of Mr Zhou to topple in a dragnet. More than 300 of Mr Zhou's relatives and former subordinates in Sichuan province and the energy and security sectors were targeted.
Mr Zhou was also once an ally of fallen political star Bo Xilai. They were alleged to have plotted a coup against Mr Xi, leading to their being targeted politically, some experts say. Bo's career fell apart after the death of a British businessman, for which his wife was convicted of murder. Bo was sentenced to life in prison for bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power last September.
Beijing-based political analyst Li Fan said there are likely various reasons for Mr Zhou's purge, with a "power struggle" possibly one of them. "We might not know the real reasons but corruption is the easiest reason to use if you want to get the support and understanding of the people," he said.
Shenzhen University analyst Ma Jingren said Mr Zhou's downfall showed the government's determination in stamping out graft. "It sends a clear signal that no one should be allowed to abuse their power and that there are no exceptions under the law."
This article was first published on July 30, 2014.
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